Anything but ... Merlot!
Like Chardonnay, Merlot is a grape of demonstrable quality. Although it's historically most prominent as a team player in the blend of red grapes that make up Bordeaux, it's the dominant element in most Bordeaux from the "Right Bank," the noteworthy regions like St.-Emilion and Pomerol, where it makes up 95 percent of the sought-after and expensive Chateau Petrus.
But also like Chardonnay, Merlot has become so popular that it suffers somewhat from over-exposure, particularly in modestly priced renditions where it's made fruity, soft and sometimes slightly sweet, a popular style that's best suited for sipping by the glass like a cocktail.
For something with a little more heft and flavor interest, I turn to the earthy, complex and somewhat under-appreciated red-grape blends of the Rhone and Languedoc in France, wild assortments of such varieties as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsaut and ... well, you get the idea. Here are two recently sampled goodies, one from the Languedoc and one from California:
Domaine d'Aupilhac 1997 Montpeyroux Coteaux de Languedoc ($14.99) Very dark ruby, almost black; deep cherry-like scent, adds marked herbal notes on swirling. Full and tart, black fruit and fragrant pepper, softly but perceptibly tannic. A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsaut and Carignan, it's a "rustic" but interesting wine, complex and excellent with food. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Dec. 9, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Went well with light lamb meatballs on a puree of potatoes, turnip and celeriac.
Turnbull 1997 Napa Valley Old Bull Red ($14.99) Clear dark garnet, with fresh and jammy scents of ripe berries and oaky vanilla. Flavors are consistent with the nose, juicy berry fruit and sweet oak framed by zippy acidity. A blend of 34% Carignan, 26% Petite Sirah, 26% Nebbiolo, 10% Mourvedre and 4% Primitivo, it's more "Old World" in style than many California wines, but it still has a distinct American melting-pot accent. (Dec. 18, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Excellent with a vegetarian dish of short pasta with radicchio and red onions.
WEB LINK: http://www.turnbullwines.com
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Friday, Dec. 21, 2001