“I don’t like Merlot” Are you Sure?

Someone said once “A truth is a lie convened upon by many.”  (Just learned that someone was Lenin)…I don’t know if I concur fully with the idea, but got to say that in the case of Merlot it really hit it right on the nose. Back in the 90’s, when Merlot became popular in Northamerica, nobody seemed to object to the velvety varietal. As with any other wine, there are good and not so good versions, so condemning all the wines made from the grape just because some (or many) were pukeable, doesn’t ring right. But that is exactly what happened. The infamous movie Sideways was “cool” and cool was to order “anything but Merlot” (ditto for Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir became all the rage. In reality, Merlot still sold -and sells- a lot more than Pinot Noir. Ours is a culture of image. One wants to be seen as cool, knowledgeable, attractive. So, all the sudden ordering Merlot made you exactly into the opposite of desirable. Some people –especially those who don’t know an awful lot about wine but pretend to- repeated this mantra until it became “true.”

It is funny to think that actually, when it comes to good and not so good varietals, it is way easier to get a “good” Merlot under 30 dollars than a “good” Pinot Noir under 40. In fact, a lot of cheaper Pinots are not at all “true to type.” They taste like anything but. Even funnier is that most people –I say this without statistical back up but have no doubt about it- most people prefer full bodied wines. And this is not new. Back at the time when the movie shook the foundations of the North American wine culture, full bodied wines were already more popular. So, how do you end up drinking Pinot Noir when you really like bigger wines? We humans are a funny bunch, entirely illogical. Anyway, let’s go back to the point, which is, Merlot.

The variety originates in Bordeaux, where is the ideal complement to bony Cabernet Sauvignon to create all those legendary wines that are so far from reach –pocket depth wise- that most of us may never taste them. At that level, where appellations like Pomerol and St. Emilion shine, Merlot yields wines of tremendous richness, pronounced flavor intensity and with the typical velvety texture, provided by properly tamed tannins, round and smooth.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend megabucks and buy a legend to taste a good, juicy, soft Merlot. There are several varietals made in the new world (and old) that will provide a good idea of what Merlot can do when well made. Let’s take a look at what is available here in Vancouver.

Thelema Merlot. South Africa. $40. Opulent, dense, will leave you breathless. Not sure whether there is a production/import problem but it is hard to spot these days. If you see one, grab it.

Marques de Casa Concha. Chile. $30. A dash of Carmenere makes it deliciously smoky spicy.

Stimson. Washington State. $18. Medium bodied, easy driking and soft on the tannin. A good entry level by Chateau St. Michelle.

Church & Estate. British Columbia $25. Merlot is one of the black grapes that do really well in British Columbia. This gold medal winner is truly delicious, with a sweet-fruit entry and nicely managed oak.

Sonoma Vineyards. California. $18. At this point you wonder. How can they make it so good at this price? Notice also that the price went down three dollars in the past few months.

Velvet Devil. Washington State. $28. Big, assertive in its fruit forwardness. A great example of what the reds from our immediate neighbor to the south can do.

Woodbridge. California. $13.99. A house wine in many restaurants in Vancouver, yummy and juicy.

Bouchard Pere et Fils. France. $11.99. Not from Burgundy, where a Bouchard Pinot would set you back a couple hundred. The French powerhouse makes this one in the sunny south part of the country.

Diego Murillo. Argentina. $10.99. Organic, tasty and coming all the way from Patagonia. Doesn’t get better for budget Merlots.

Homework: find a Pinot at the price points above and see which one –blind tasting-  you like better.

Ciao for Now


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