The 30 Second Wine Advisor

Vol. 1, No. 16, May 3, 1999
© Copyright 1999 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Merlot, Mare-low
Not long ago, a lot of people didn't even know what a Merlot was, much less how to pronounce it.

Nowadays, though, folks who knew that asking for Chardonnay was a with-it way to get a glass of white wine have learned that a call for Merlot brings forth a dry, fruity red that's easy to enjoy. (Should you be in any doubt, it's "Mare-low," if you please, with a French twist and the accent on the "Mare.")

The Merlot grape has been cultivated for two centuries or more in France, where its name in dialect reportedly means "little blackbird." Until quite recently, though, it has been used primarily in blended mixtures -- particularly in Bordeaux -- rather than standing on its own.

Some more serious wine fanciers shun the modern unblended Merlots because some of the budget-level examples are one-dimensional and boring, Merlot can make a wine that's soft, fruity and sippable. That's a combination that's hard to dislike!

What's your opinion on Merlot? Great wine, or best reserved for blending? Write me at if you've got Merlot tales to tell. And, as always, please don't hesitate to drop us a line if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes
A flock of Merlots
Anticipating this discussion, I've been saving up notes on Merlots for the past few weeks. The following definitely passed muster with me!

Lava Cap Lava Cap 1996 El Dorado Merlot ($18.99)
The beautiful Sierra Foothills region of Northern California has been making wine just about as long as Napa, but until recently it hasn't gained a whole lot of attention. If it produces many more wines as tasty as this one, though, that will change fast. Inky dark garnet in color, it breathes absolutely delicious scents of black cherries, dark mocha chocolate and a lovely aromatic nuance of the Chinese flavoring called "five spice." Full and bright on the palate, with big fruit and tart acid flavors, it shows good balance and structure and a long finish. (April 27, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: A fine match with a hearty Portuguese-style kale and sausage soup.

The Hogue Cellars 1995 Columbia Valley (Washington State) "Barrel Select" Merlot ($14.99)
Clear reddish purple. Ripe cherry and oaky vanillins add a pleasant whiff of licorice for complexity. Fresh and juicy bowl-o-fruit flavor, just enough acidity for balance although it comes across as soft with all the fruit. Good quaffing wine, although it would be a better fit in the under-$10 niche. (March 30, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: A partial success in a risky match with Kung Pao chicken with peanuts: The wine's ripe fruit is a treat with the chicken and the earthy flavors of brown bean and hoisin sauces and roasted peanuts, but the hot and spicy flavors of this fiery dish would be a problem with any wine.

Casa Lapostolle 1997 "Cuvée Alexandre" Rapel Valley (Chile) Merlot ($19.99)
Very dark blackish-purple, almost opaque, with huge black-cherry and spicy oak aromas that almost seem to leap from the glass to fill the nose and palate. Sufficient acidity for balance, but it's definitely a "fruit bomb." Quite a wine, although at a stunning $8 jump from last year's price, it's pushing the limits on value. U.S. importer: Marnier-Lapostolle Co., NYC, distributed by Schiffelen & Somerset Co. (March 31, 1999)

FOOD MATCH: A natural partner with steaks.

30 Second Wine Link
Scott Davis, who lives just up the river from me in Southern Indiana, is a seismologist by day and a wine lover at night. His Seismo-Zombie Site O' Wine is a labor of love, and always an enjoyable visit.

30 Second Advertising Partner
The Sydney International Wine Competition, our Australian advertising partner, is the only major wine competition in the world that judges the best wines alongside complementary food. Its excellent Website lists all the wines that its judges rated as the world's best, along with recipes and descriptions of the foods that accompanied them.

Sydney International Wine Competition

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