I’m not going to review a particular wine label this time. Instead, I’m just going to talk about a variety that I really love. I really love a good Merlot. Surprised? Although I love Pinot Noir, I occasionally step out with other wines, and if I can find a great Merlot, I’m in heaven.
And there, as they say, lies the rub.
When it’s done right and is typical (“displays typicity”) of the grape, that is. And that’s where my current journey focuses.
Merlot is “the” grape of the Right Bank of Bordeaux, being the 2nd most planted grape after Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot, along with Cabernet Franc, makes up the lion’s share of the varietals on the Right Bank. It’s also planted a lot in the southwest of France.
As an aside, there is an almost incestuous quality about the grapes of Bordeaux. Cab Franc is the ultimate baby daddy, being the parent of Cab Sauv and Merlot. Carmenere (another Bordeaux grape used nowadays primarily in Chile) is related to Merlot. Malbec isn’t related, having moved into the country only to be deported to Argentina or escaped to Cahors. Petit Verdot is the adopted one, but nobody knows where he came from, so they don’t talk to him much.
Naturally, and literally, as an “International” grape, Merlot has found homes in Italy, California, Chile, Germany, Australia, and, interestingly enough, Switzerland. It can be found in just about every wine-growing country. Why? Because people love it. Miles notwithstanding.
Despite its Sideways smackdown, it remains a very popular grape. Probably because, even with the boost it was given in the movie, Pinot Noir is, and will always be, a grape driven by a prima donna attitude and a delicate nature. Pinot is the beautiful rich girl who everyone wants, but who doesn’t always give up the goods.
One of the finest and most expensive wines in the world is Petrus from the Pomerol region of the Right Bank. At least I hear that it’s otherworldly, but at prices hovering anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 per bottle more or less, it may forever be one of my bucket list fantasies.
Pinot is the beautiful rich girl who everyone wants, but who doesn’t always give up the goods.
What I want to talk about is an issue that I have with today’s Merlot. A lot of them, in my humble opinion, lack the unique traits that make Merlot, Merlot.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. There are good Merlots. But a lot of them taste like any random red wine with no particular character. Some are as translucent as a Tavel, and some are as dense as a Petite Sirah. No Bueno.
I know a lot has to do with the climate that it’s grown in, just like any other varietal. Merlot grown in, say, Washington State is going to be different from Merlot grown in Australia. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Despite all of that, however, there are certain traits that I look for but, disappointingly, don’t always find. Unlike Chardonnay, which almost always tastes like Chardonnay, Merlot is not so fortunate.
What I Look For
One of my Sommelier friends taught me something essential, which I kind of knew, but didn’t focus on. He said that good wine will have an impact of type. Just like lifting a glass of Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or a good Pinot will hit your nose and your palate even if you’re new at wines, so should any wine that’s a true representative of its type.
The “impact” of Merlot – for me at least – has always been plums, cocoa, coffee – cold brew only – blackberry, some blueberry, tobacco, vanilla, and if it’s from a cold climate, a touch of “green.”
What I have experienced, however, has ranged from wine with tinny, metallic notes on the nose and palate all the way to Merlots that can’t be differentiated from Cabernets.
I said all that to say this: I want a good Merlot. One with lovely fruits that include plums and blackberries. One with rich notes of cocoa and a soupçon of coffee and tobacco. And, of course, the richness of the berries. I don’t want it to look like a Rosé or like a Petite. It should be velvety on my tongue with soft, caressing tannins.
In my imagination, a Merlot should transport me to a penthouse balcony overlooking the lights of the city while I clink glasses with my handsome consort.
In my reality, however, I’ll kick back in the living room watching tv and enjoying my wine.
So, dear peeps. Am I on a fruitless voyage? Is there a great Merlot out there that won’t make me choose between a bottle and my next house payment?
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