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A fresh look at Merlot
It has been 10 years since the movie "Sideways" made Merlot a laughingstock with the snobby character Miles's angry remark about "#$%&ing Merlot," a laugh line that actually drove down Merlot sales in the U.S. while starting a mini-boom for the Pinot Noir upon which the script lavished praise.
Of course, Merlot is what it is. Most wine geeks aren't going to have our tastes affected by a funny line in a movie; and that includes the screen writers and directors, who had the same character later going gaga over Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Right Bank Bordeaux that's predominantly Merlot and Cab Franc, another variety that he disdained.
So for this month's Wine Focus in our online WineLovers Discussion Group, we're seeking to give this much abused grape a second chance. We'll sample a variety of Merlots and see if we can't find good wines of good value between the Cheval Blancs and the overcropped, industrially made mass-market Merlot that made Miles so angry. There's worthy Merlot and Merlot-dominant blends in the middle. Let's try to find it and share the news.
I dived in with a taste of Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau 2011 Bordeaux Superieur, a blend of 65% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. At $18 locally it wasn't much of a buy. Wine-Searcher.com lists a $15 median retail price for all vintages of Bellevue Peycharneau and shows the 2011 (a problematic vintage) going for a median $7, likely because this vintage was not highly regarded. In my opinion, this bottle is worth a mid-teens price, but I wouldn't back up the truck to the wine-shop door. Pay your money and take your choice. (You'll find my tasting report below.)
You're invited to share your Merlot questions, comments and tasting notes through this month in Wine Focus. Just click this link to drop in. You'll be warmly welcome in our friendly wine-loving community.
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What Can a Wine Club do for YOU?
Since 1990, The California Wine Club has been delivering wine adventures to thousands of members across the country. Each month you'll get to discover a different winery and taste handcrafted artisan wines.
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Today's Tasting Report
Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau 2011 Bordeaux Superieur ($17.99)
A blend of 65% Merlot with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. Very dark purple with a clear garnet edge. Fruit-forward aromas are almost "New World" in style: ripe cherries and berries plus a whiff of anise and a spicy note of European oak. Warm and mouth-filling, 13.5% alcohol; red fruit and tart acidity over firm, astringent tannins. U.S. importer: Acquitaine Wine USA, LLC, Berkeley. A Jean-Christophe Calvet USA Exclusive wine. (April 16, 2014)
FOOD MATCH: The back label suggests steaks, pork loin, lamb chops, turkey and cheeses or "enjoy it alone." I'm not so sure about that last, as it's really tannic and tart enough to need food for balance. It made a fine match with spaghetti with an Italian-American spaghetti with tomato "gravy."
WHEN TO DRINK: Plenty of fruit and plenty of tannin, with a good acidic structure, suggest that a few years under good cellar conditions will do this wine no harm.
VALUE: Wine-Searcher.com lists a $15 median retail price for all vintages of Bellevue Peycharneau; however, the 2011 is now going for a median $7. Pay your money and take your choice.
WEB LINK: The Chateau Bellevue Peycharneau website is published in French and English. Here's a link to the English-language start page.
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