Merlot, a classic French wine grape and a key player in the Bordeaux varietal blend, a grape of noble lineage and even gravitas, suddenly a laughingstock? Who knew?
Although the wine industry hasn't reported a dip in Merlot sales to correspond with the trendy status that the recent wine-geek movie inspired for Pinot Noir, there's little question that Pinot is in while Merlot is out these days.
What's up with that? As one reader wrote recently, "May be a dumb question, but why did the wine geek hate Merlot so much?"
The short answer, I told him, is that Miles probably doesn't really hate Merlot as much as he thinks. In fact, the most prized bottle in his collection is not a Pinot Noir at all but 1961 Cheval Blanc, the wine that he hoarded, then finally opened and consumed from a paper cup in a diner, signaling perhaps that his life is finally moving on. This great wine, in fact, is one-third Merlot and two-thirds Cabernet Franc, another grape that Miles spoke of with disdain.
What we really see in Miles's anti-Merlot rant is a bit of wine snobbery. Merlot has become one of the most popular cheap, mass-market wine varieties - some wits nickname it "the Red Chardonnay" because so many casual wine drinkers call for it by name. And in its least-common-denominator form, a lot of Merlot is indeed sourced from greedily over-produced vineyards and vinified in a soft, sweetish and blowzy crowd-pleasing style that does not please "connoisseurs" like Miles.
But you don't have to pay Cheval Blanc prices to get decent Merlot. Check published tasting reports or compare notes with wine-loving friends, in person or online, and you can find plenty of Merlot that shouldn't make any wine lover run away.
Today's wine, for example, Clos Pegase 2000 Mitsuko's Vineyard Carneros Napa Valley Merlot, has nothing to apologize for. Grown in the cool climate of Carneros, the bayside southern edge of Napa and Sonoma, it's easy-to-drink, all right, but presents luscious chocolate-covered-cherry Merlot character in a wine of good balance and subtlety, with sufficient personality to reward contemplation ... fully competitive with, well, Pinot Noir in the same price range.
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Clos Pegase 2000 Mitsuko's Vineyard Carneros Napa Valley Merlot ($19.99)
This is an inky dark reddish-purple wine with the classic chocolate-covered-cherry aroma profile of a good New World Merlot, not over-the-top but pleasant and inviting. Similar on the palate, it opens with ripe black fruit, plums and tart cherries with a rich, earthy back note of bittersweet dark chocolate. Fruit and acidity are in good balance; tannins are present but so smooth that they fade seamlessly into the fruit, which remains clean and consistent in a long finish. There's no need to snob on this Merlot: It's eminently drinkable and finds a good midpoint between New World and Old World styles. (April 16, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with an herbal, aromatic Italian-style chicken dish from Marcella Hazan, a split chiclen pan-roasted with herbs and garlic, then finished in a hot oven with a coating of grated Parmigiano.
VALUE: A decent value at this price, although some online merchants offer it for a few dollars less.
WHEN TO DRINK: There's no hurry to drink up this nicely balanced wine. It's delicious now, and its good fruit-acid balance suggests that it will hold and perhaps gain complexity with a few years of cellar time.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
French Wine Explorers:
Last call for our Rhône Valley tour
I'll be personally leading this tour, a first-class itinerary that boasts Michelin-starred restaurants, four-star accommodations, and VIP visits to the top wine producers of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and more. We're even invited to a private, gala dinner and dance where we'll meet the wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the historic 14th century wine cellars of the Papal Court at Avignon.
We still have a few places left in this strictly limited tour, and it would be a real shame to let them go unfilled. But we must finalize the guest list on Wednesday, April 20, and will not be able to accept applicants after that. If you're interested in this rare opportunity, I urge you to contact me immediately by E-mail or register on the French Wine Explorers Website today.
California Wine Club:
A Special Gift Just for Mom!
Mother's Day is May 8, and The California Wine Club has a special gift just for Mom!
The California Wine Club features award-winning wines, hand selected from California's best boutique wineries ... it's a wine adventure that any Mom would love! Send a gift of 3 months or more and we'll include a copy of the book "How To Match Food and Wine" and an Engraved Collector's Wine Box. It's a $35 value, free! Each shipment will also include a copy of our beautiful and entertaining 12-page magazine, Uncorked. Just $32.95/month plus shipping.
To place your Mother's Day Gift Order, or for more information please call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Wood on Wine: Send me some wine ...
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Is California overtaking Burgundy?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Last week, however, we went on a vacation schedule because of my travels, skipping the usual Wednesday Wine Advisor and Thursday FoodLetter. Here's the index to last week's columns:
A 2003 that came out right (April 15, 2004)
Even cheaper Pinot Noir (April 13, 2004)
Affordable Pinot Noir (April 11, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Theme and variations (April 14, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Monday, April 18, 2005