30 Second Wine Advisor: Can Merlot be saved?

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Can Merlot be saved?

Even before a single, memorable line about Merlot in the popular movie Sideways sent its commercial fortunes plunging in the U.S., Merlot's reputation was getting a little shaky.

Perhaps because it somehow became endowed as "The Red Chardonnay," many North and South American producers - and more than a few Europeans seeking a U.S. export market - started pouring out rivers of Merlot, much of it sadly made in a "pop" style marked by residual sugar, over-the-top frooty flavors and bombastic oak, and much of it from mediocre fruit from overcropped vineyards. Great Merlots and Merlot blends from Bordeaux' Right Bank and a few other favored locations got lost in the stampede as wine geeks fled for other, more favored varieties.

But does it have to be so? Given the passage of time, have alternative wine voices begun to be heard? This month, if we dare, we'll seek to find out in the monthly Wine Focus discussion in our WineLovers Discussion Group, as we sample a world of Merlots in a quest for that elusive goal: Well-balanced Merlots, good with food, the way the grape ought to be.

I found a pretty decent model in the mid-teens in this week's featured wine, Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 "Traditions" Merlot from Washington State's Columbia Valley. You'll find my tasting notes below.

So bring your Merlots this month, and your Chilean Carmeneres if you like, as we try to answer the question, "Can Merlot be saved?" Bring your tasting notes, comments, questions, and thoughts; and if you're new to the conversations, you'll find a warm welcome in our online community.

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Today's Tasting Report

Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 "Traditions" Columbia Valley Merlot ($13.99)


Clear but very dark garnet with a clear edge. Fresh cherry-berry fruit with a whiff of something like cocoa powder. Fresh and bright, appealing black fruit shaped by mouth-watering acidity and an edge of soft tannins. Nicely balanced, avoids the chocolate-blackberry milkshake character or excessive alcohol and oak that gives some New World Merlots a bad reputation. (Dec. 31, 2012)

FOOD MATCH: Good balance of fruit and acidity make it a natural with traditional red-wine fare from rare beef to roast poultry. We enjoyed it with crispy risotto cakes made with leftover roasted fennel risotto with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano, dusted with flour and pan-fried in a little butter; the crunchy browned coating and the haunting fennel scent both did favors for the Merlot.

WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, and capable of cellaring for years or even decades under good cellar conditions. .

VALUE: For a change of pace, my local price came in a buck or so under the $15 national median for this wine as reported by Wine-Searcher.com. It's a good value in the middle teens, but check Wine-Searcher for some vendors offering it at $12 or below.

Merlot = "Mare-low"

This PDF file contains a detailed fact sheet on Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 "Traditions" Columbia Valley Merlot.

Check prices and locate vendors for Milbrandt "Traditions" Merlot on Wine-Searcher.com.

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If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about today's article or wine in general, you're always welcome to drop by our online WineLovers Discussion Group, the Internet's first and still the most civil online community. To find our forums, click:

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