Monday, October 24, 2011

Much-Maligned Merlot

Once the darling of wine-by-the-glass programs around the country, and purchased by the gallon by people who didn't know what else to buy, Merlot has been relegated to the margins of wine culture. "You drink Merlot?" people have asked me with horrified expressions.

Yes. I drink Merlot. It's a great food wine--far easier to pair with most dishes than its more structured sibling, Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot has a bit of softness, a hint of richness, that make it a good choice for autumn and winter meals.

But Merlot critics do have a point: there was such a high demand for Merlot some people got carried away and began mass-producing wines that lost all of the plummy, peppery, clove, and mocha notes that make wines made with this grape distinctive.

Here are a few affordable bottlings that will get you reacquainted with Merlot. And here's a handy list of foods that go well with them: Mustard, Mushrooms, and Meatloaf (and other dishes made with ground beef). It's an easy list to remember, and will help you out in the store whether you're inspired to make Melissa Clark's Chicken with Mustard Croutons, Jamie Oliver's pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms, or a classic meatloaf or burger.

2009 Rutherford Ranch Merlot (suggested retail $18; available for $14-$20) With characteristic chocolate, plum, and spice notes that persist from the aromas, through the flavors, and continue on into the aftertaste, this is a very good QPR choice. Nicely balanced between fruit, acidity, and oak, the wine impproves with air, suggesting it is suitable for drinking between 2011 and 2014. Buy a bottle for now--and set one aside for 2012 or later.

2009 Arroba Winery Merlot (suggested retail $19.95; available for around $15) A good QPR choice with plum and baking chocolate aromas and flavors. Good acidity and spice in the aftertaste makes you head back to the glass for another sip.

2009 Bella Sera Merlot (suggested retail $7.99; available for $7-$11) Very good QPR at around $8, this Merlot smells and tastes of plums with hints of chocolate around the edges and pleasingly smooth tannins. It may not convince Merlot skeptics, but those who enjoy the grape should give this Sicilian bottling a try.

2008 Concannon Vineyard Merlot Selected Vineyards (suggested retail $10; available for $7-$11) Another very good QPR Merlot for the price, with more structured rich plum and currant aromas. These fruits are evident in the flavors, too, which are nicely accented with spice. A reminder of the versatility or Merlot, and that the grape can be great if treated well.

If you haven't had Merlot for a while, give it another try. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by what's on offer these days.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.


Woo Wine Girl said...

181 Merlot out of Lodi - around $10 in Ohio - is also an excellent wine for the price. So many inexpensive Merlots (and even some pricey ones for that matter) are too jammy, but this one is great!

Decanted Wines said...

Big fan of all the Rutherford wines, including the Merlot. Another favorite (for around $12!) is Casa Lapostolle Merlot '10.

Till said...

Washington Merlot is crazy good (enough to make any Miles fanboys change their tune). Try Columbia Crest's H3 from the Horse Heaven Hills for value pricing, or super-rich Otis Kenyon for a modest splurge.

Darrell Andersen said...

Let the follow-the-crowd wine pack dismiss Merlot. It will come back around soon enough. One of the building blocks of winemaking. Pinot is for faddies.

Darrell Andersen

Claire Uncorked said...

I'm a fan of Merlot...& I think that the same thing that happened to Merlot has happened to Pinot in CA, thanks to the Pinot boom that occurred after "Sideways". Not that you still can't get good Pinot in CA, because you can, of course.

Anyway, I agree that WA Merlot is fantastic. One of my favorites is Novelty Hill.

Out of CA, one of my favorites is Bin 36. Oh, the list I could write....

JTD1216 said...

Always wondered about Bella Sera wines. We seem to pass over it each time in the store. Thanks for the tip!