Posts Tagged ‘merlot’

Stars of the Playhouse Festival: Trefethen

April 19, 2011

Trefethen 2007 Estate Merlot

This Merlot, which I mentioned in my previous post, is here to turn heads. The 93 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine are fully justified, if by that they mean a mean, firm and complex red. Big and bold, Californian in and out, I came back to this booth to taste it again. Great addition to thewinesyndicate portfolio. $39.99.

Trefethen 2007 Estate Cabernet Savignon

The Trefethen label also brought this Cabernet Sauvignon   to the show, defying the big Californian style that we all are so used to. Definitely more subtle than its stable mate, this wine is more about finesse than muscle and should be a great addition to any cellar as it will but improve with a few years of guarda. Robert Parker, my favorite wine point-giver, sanctioned 91 pts for this baby.

“I don’t like Merlot” Are you Sure?

March 30, 2010

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

Argentina’s Las Moras: Great Quality Under 20 Dollars

March 11, 2010

With the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival looming in the distance, it is time to pay some attention to the land of Che Guevara, Evita and Maradona. That Argentina is producing wines of great value is news to nobody. We all are familiar with all those under 10, 10-15 and under 20 dollars Malbec bottlings that embellish our tables and bring joy to our parties. In this category, there is a winery that really is scoring goal after great tasting goal.

 
I am referring to Finca Las Moras, or “mulberry estate” as it would be in Spanish, which is the language spoken in the southamerican country. I make this point clear because, had you the chance to meet an Argentinian you may think he comes from somewhere in Europe. Argentinians gesture like Italians, have the self confidence of Spaniards and the pomp of Englishmen but they are just Argentinos. Never mind. Us, fellow southamericans love to make fun of them; we call them che’s (like in “Che” Guevara), but we all know well they are true masters at three things:
 
fútbol, football (soccer, as the unbelievers call it )
sound and fury
vino, mucho vino
 
They also have the best meat in the world, but I don’t intend to offend vegetarians, vegans and those practicing abstinence here…
 
Las Moras, unlike most che wineries known here in Vancouver, is not located in sunny, dry, hot, beautiful Mendoza but a little further North, in sunnier, drier, hotter, beautiful San Juan. Soils and climate there suit non-wimpy grapes, as in the case of Syrah. San Juan’s best wines today are produced in the Tulum Valley, which is where Las Moras has its viticultural headquarters. The winery’s vineyards lie at 630 metres above sea level and conditions are such that there is very little -or none- need for the use of pesticides, making the wines virtually organic.
 
In Vancouver you can find some of their varietals and blends. Best marks go to their exquisite Malbec, Tannat, Shiraz, Cabernet/Shiraz and Chardonnay, all priced between 15 an 17 dollars. In the higher price bracket, the Gran Shiraz 3 Valleys is one yummy sip at 25 Cnd. All these products are excellent value and have in common an onslaught of ripe, full-flavoured fruit coming off and out of the glass.
 
The first four products are really worth every penny you pay. Particularly impressive is the Malbec, juicy and plump, hard to beat in this price category. The Tannat, which is a more recent entry in the City of Glass, is surprising in its mouthfilling fruit but particularly in its tannins, abundant but very fine grained, smooth as no French Tannat will be. (Many Madiran Tannats are blended with Merlot to soften the otherwise excruciatingly raspy tannins). The Shiraz is also very competent at the price, mellow and with sweet tannins and the right dose of spice. The Chardonnay, the only white from this house to be found in YVR, is  lovely, balancing good appley acidity with popcorn butter, although those not fond of oak may not enjoy the latter characteristic. I don’t really care for such niceties. I drink wines all across the board; from the anorexically lean to the Boteroesquely curvaceous. As long as they offer quality, I love them. The same approach goes for my mating preferences. This Zen of Drinking requires time, patience, self-discipline and $$$. Reasons for which I am growing older, hermit-like and broke.
 
To finish this entry, all in all, top marks for Las Moras. Even the packaging is attractive, with front and back labels offering good information without offending the eye with bright shiny coloring or cartoon-like illustrations. On the down side, they should seriously give a second thought to their website efforts. Wine geeks and lovers and drinkers look wineries up in the net. Nothing is more aggravating than broken links or pages that appear etternally “under construction”. The currently working website, www.fincalasmoras.co.uk provides very little information on either the winery, the wines or anything. Plus, aesthetically speaking, is a bit tacky. Come on guys, the quality of your wines deserves better. Communications are important too, you know.
 
A note to the importer, Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits. Great job, guys, but when are we getting the Las Moras Late Harvest Viognier here? After the Olympics (not to mention the bill hanging over their heads), Vancouverites only deserve gold. 
 
ps. Apologies for the formatting. Used a new clipboard and showed up in color green and other font. Will try and fix soon.
 

Budget Fall Wines

October 20, 2009

In good and bad times it is always nice to find good quality, inexpensive vino. Customers are always looking for a bargain, aka “bang for your buck” and I have tasted innumerable cheapies to separate the grain from the chaff. Prices vary greatly in Metro Vancouver, so be sure to buy your wines in stores where you will get the lower tags.

Starting with whites, I recently found two wonderful Chardonnays. The first one hails from Southern France louislatour_chardand is produced by world known winehouseLouis LaTour. The 2007 Ardeche Chardonnay is a delightful unoaked version, which has been allowed to go through malolactic fermentation. Light, slightly creamy, with touches of tropical fruit, I enjoyed this one a lot and since I posted a shelf talker many a customer has become a fan. It sells for 13.99 at Everything Wine (North Vancouver) and LDB stores (check website for branches that carry it. Some cold beer and wine stores sell this product for up to 23.99 so beware.

From Southern Italy, in the Puglia region, we have the Tormaresca Chardonnay (2006, 2007). Light and 3348-tormaresca-chardonnay-500minerally this wine offers great value. I think this one to be unoaked or only slightly oaked. At 15.99, it has become one of my favorite whites.

Puglia also brings us an excellent red, perhaps on the top ten under ten dollars. The Paiara blend of paiara Cabernet Sauvignon and Negroamaro grapes is round, balanced and persistent, surprisingly so for a wine so inexpensive. LDB stores and Everything Wine sell the product for 9.99 and once you taste it you will probably make it a staple for weekdays. My woman recently made a delicious Tortilla de Patatas (potato omelette, Spanish style. Click link for recipe) for brunch and this medium-light red was the perfect companion.

From the land of Kangaroos, Koalas, venomous critters and man-eating sharks, the 2006 Rock Art Cabernet Merlot is sensational for the price. Everything wine carries the product for 12.99 but it had it as special during the Thanksgiving long weekend, selling scores of cases at 8.99, an absolute steal. Even at 12.99 this little wine is serious and convincing, with a solid fruit front, balance and a bit of structure that suggests that the 3 years spent in bottle added a little quality.

To finish this ripasso, let’s go to Patagonia, Argentina, and taste the 2007 Diego Murillo Merlot. Organic, diegomurillovelvety and full flavored, this wine is perfect for the nostalgic, sweet emotions that only the season of falling leaves can arouse. Dark and deep, this little jewel by Humberto Canale winery is well worth the 10.99 you pay for it at LDB and Everything Wine.

Enjoy the rest of the season and brace yourselves for overwhelming, rainy, grey November.

Food and Wine Matching For The Un-initiated

September 17, 2009

This is an almost esoteric subject for most. So much has been written about it that you may think -I do think- why write another line? Well, I do it because it is fun and because I love food and I love wine. So there you go. Like everybody else, I guess, except for those who like chips out of a bag, burgers out of a fast-crapfood joint and prefer carbonated drinks to accompany their “fare”.

“White wine is for fish, red wine for meat”. Who hasn’t heard this from people who are in the wine “know?”. And the reality is that there is certain validity to the claim. But as a guideline only. Remember Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean? Same idea. It is not a code, it is just a guideline. You need to know a bit more than that, basic, intuitive (we all have tastebuds after all) understanding. And you need an imagination, you need to let it soar, you have to exercise it.

For instance, every time I eat, I am thinking mmm….what could I pair this with? I was just thinking about this when a few days ago, I had a plate of lentils on white rice. The lentils were seasoned with sauteed chopped garlic, onion, tomato and pureed roasted red pepper. So, very tasty indeed, and sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley and generously splashed with olive oil at serving. One of my favorite brunch meals indeed. Viognier, I thought, almost intuitively, bringing to mind the moderate acidity of that varietal matching the dish’s. A little more acidity in the wine to cut through the olive-oily film coating my palate? Perhaps an unoaked Chardonnay. Something with a bit of body to go with the weight of seasoned lentils.

So, there you go. White wines would work well. But what about red? Some people, as we know, cannot tolerate white. Not too much body here. A big heavily oaked Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz would suffocate the rather bland character of the dish. Unoaked? Check. Medium to light medium body? Check. Low alcohol? Check? I figured something like Periquita, a Portuguese table wine made of Castelao, Tinta Roriz and Trincadeira grapes. Easy, smooth, fruity, uncomplicated. Perfect. It could be anything like that. Don’t bring the heavy artillery for this small infantry job.

To conclude this note, keep in mind things that are no mystery: Acidity of the dish, acidity of the wine. Let them run together. Weight, or body. How strong is the imprint of the food on your palate? The wine chosen should be equally strong, or weak. And it must be added, you don’t need a great wine to do pairing. White wine for fish, red wine for meat? Yes, but as a guideline only, not code. Don’t be intimidated. Is no rocket science.

New Zealand Red Wine Terroir

August 28, 2009

Better known by the tremendous success of its white wines,new zealand wine regions particularly Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s red wines are off the radar for the global market, with the obvious exception of Pinot Noir. The “heart break grape” has made its home in Martinborough, at the southern tip of North Island, and in Otago, in the southern end of South Island.

Central Otago has the only true continental climate in the country. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, its soils show heavy deposits of mica, schist and silt loams. Pinot Noir wines from this region have received accolades due to their purity of fruit, intensity and vibrancy.

Martinborough, in the Wairarapa region, also offers excellent Pinot Noir. Climatically is closer to Marlborough: maritime, cool and with less extremes of daily and seasonal temperatures. The top Pinot Noirs produced there exhibit richness and opulence.

Although little known, New Zealand also produces high quality Bordeaux and Rhone blends, mostly in Waiheke Island and Hawke’s Bay. The former is located in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland. Its hilly terrain produces Bordeaux blends that have good reputation, though production is rather small.

Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern central coast of North Island, is the nation’s capital when it comes to Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The Bordeaux blends produced there show finesse and restrain. Syrah is the new buzz, producing wines that are fresh, long and peppery, reminiscent of the northern Rhone reds.

South African Beauties

July 28, 2009

Bafana, brother, here is the good news. Too many of us avoid South African wines, some because they are header_logotoo exotic. Others heard stories of burned rubber as a prevailing aroma. Well, I must admit I was among those and carefully chose not to pick wines from the land of Mandela, Rugby champions and the great five.

That until Andre Morgental, communications manager of Wines of South Africa, guided us through a flight that went from a bubbly all the way to rich Shiraz and Merlots. The contentious issue of burned rubber was brought up and Andre gave us an insight on the matter. In spite of tremendous efforts to pinpoint the nature of this smell that has created a bad reputation for some of their wines, South African researchers have not been able to determine a single compound responsible for it. Furthermore, studies show that in blind tastings, subjects find the smell in wines from all over the world. It may have a strong psychological component and perhaps, once the consumer knows the wine is South Africa, he “finds” the odour. True or not, we had eleven wines and not a trace of the said stench.

Graham Beck, Chardonnay Pinot Noir, sparkling. A lovely wine with a yeasty, biscuity nose, subtle floral aromas and creamy palate, accentuated by fine fizz. Definitely worth a try. $25

MAN Chenin Blanc 2008. Inexpensive white wine, filled with ripe banana and dry pineapple aromas. Granny apple and mineral flavors, good acidity and overall, a very nice everyday white. $12

Winery of Good Hope Chenin Blanc 2008. Another great value white, lighter than the MAN, with tropical fruit and a nice long finish.

Excelsior Paddock Viognier 2008. This Viognier surely has no low self-esteem issues. Big nose, leesy and tropical, some floral notes and a nutty, lemony medium-bodied palate. $15

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2007. A good rendition of this controversial grape, which seems to be adored in South Africa but does not have the same following overseas. Smoky, medicinal notes on the nose, coffee and honey, juicy palate.

Saxenburg Private Collection Merlot 2005. Gamey aromas and a juicy, fleshy, mineral palate. Soft tannins, rich with good finish.

Stormy Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. This one stole the show. Black currant galore, pepperleaf, game and resin on the nose. Sweet, ripe fruit and soft tannin for an excellent value wine. At 13.99, this is a winner.

MAN Shiraz 2007. Deep purple robe with a minty, diesely nose. Palate peppery, medicinal notes and a bit puckering. Not my favorite but for the price -11.99- does quite well.

Boekenhouskloof The Wolftrap Shiraz 2008. Never had coconut on the nose of a Shiraz before. This one has plenty, plus toasty, gamey notes. Rich palate with tchai spice, lots of ripe red fruit and peppery minerality. A dash of Mourvedre and Viognier makes this Shiraz a serious contender in the price range. 14.99

Leopard Frog Vineyards Midnight Masai Shiraz 2002. A juicy, fruit driven, rich broth. Tannins firm and mouth puckering, in a agreeable way. 24.99

Thelema Reserve Merlot. A Mafuta (BIG) Merlot, with plenty of fruit, velvety texture, flavorful and convincing. Great way to close the tasting. 29.99

I would recommend any of the wines described above. Plus visit the Wines of South Africa website, for information on their very interesting food. Mafuta Bafana!

La Minga Red Blend, Outstanding Value

June 15, 2009

Exclusive to Everything Wine, La Minga is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.minga red Medium bodied and smooth, this wine is a real bargain. Red fruit, acidity and alcohol enjoy a balance that is rarely found in a budget wine. Soft aftertaste, easy drinking and just perfect for a week day or a party.

Product: La Minga

Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Vintage: 2008

Winery: Sur Andino

Origin: Apoquindo, Chile

Alcohol: 13.0%

Price: 10.99 (Everything Wine)

Il Bruciato, a Red Blend by Antinori

May 21, 2009

Il Bruciato is an italian expression for “the burned one”, which probably refers to its outstanding aromas of toasted oak barrel. A powerful blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah by famous Italian winery Antinori. This Bolgheri DOC wine brings a inca-whitetremendous nose with barnyard, almost poopy character, dark red fruit in compote, dancing over a framework of old furniture notes. The medium-plus body reveals high acidity which is balanced by an impressive array of flavors in which black berry predominates. The tannins are a bit rough but they don’t negate the overall satisfaction this broth can deliver. The finish is long, with tones of dark berries and a brushstroke of vegetal. Il Bruciato is one of those wines not to be missed.

Product: Il Bruciato

Variety: Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah

Vintage: 2006

Winery: Antinory

Origin: Bolgheri, Italy

Alcohol: 14.0%

Price: 34.99 (Everything Wine)

Wine 101: Varietals und Blends

April 22, 2009

argentina-604Who doesn’t know what Chardonnay is? Or Cabernet Sauvignon? These two are highly recognizable grapes, which are commonly sold all on their own, as varietal wines. Meaning that the predominating -or exclusive- grape variety in the bottle will be the one shown on the label.

Blends involve varying amounts of different grapes that may have been fermented separately or together. The archetypal blend is the French Bordeaux style, which usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/orCabernet Franc. This successful style has been replicated virtually in every wine region in the world, and it is known in North America as Meritage.

In blends, the winemaker seeks to highlight some characteristics of a particular grape, or to polish off edges, to add structure, lift up the fragance or the acidity, in order to work a final product that will better the outcome of the individual varieties.

Varietals are easier to approach, because they showcase typical characters like fruit and aroma. They tend to be more “extrovert” than blends, in which the winemaker intends to achieve something more complex,  more subtle and elegant. It could be said that varietals are more about the grape and blends are more about the winemaking.

Examples of red blends are Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Grenache-Shiraz-Mouverdre, Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. For whites we have Semillon-Chardonnay, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc among others.