A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Merlot Post

Another wine post (with co-author Bill Stimmel, though, as always, this is one I drafted):

It’s time we put our money where our mouth is (when we write this column, we write with one voice, and, so, one mouth): in more than one column, we’ve defended Merlot against the hordes who, in a backlash against the Merlot glut of the 1990’s (and spurred on by the wildly influential film Sideways), have so abused and denigrated this once proud, noble grape that it has become a second-class citizen in the popular wine world.

It has not always been this way. Merlot actually is one of the three so-called “noble” red grapes (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, with some people adding Syrah as a fourth), and it is of fundamental importance to the world renowned red blends of Bordeaux, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, on the “right bank” of the Gironde river, which cuts through the heart of Bordeaux, Merlot often dominates blends, constituting 50% or more of many Chateaus’ wines. Indeed, one of the world’s most famous wines, made principally from Merlot, comes from the St. Emilion region on the “right bank:” Chateau Petrus is universally lauded as one of the best wines in the world, and individual bottles of it can sell for more than $5,000.

Outside of France, Merlot has thrived in many locations, though Chile and the west coast of the U.S. are particularly noteworthy here. Merlots from Chile can take on earthy flavors of smoke and roasted chili peppers, while California and Washington Merlots can seem to be made of pure satin, dripping with rich flavors of baked plums, red currants, chocolate, cinnamon, and other warming spices.

Indeed, it’s largely due to the success of Merlot in the “New World” that it is now so widely scoffed at: in the 1990’s, a veritable flood of Merlot swamped the U.S. market with hundreds of new bottlings, most of which were made from cheap juice that was heavily oaked to mask imperfections so that growers could capitalize on a growing trend.

Wine drinkers became justifiably suspicious, but the fact is that there have always been good Merlots out there at all price points. One of the beauties of the grape is that, while it can certainly be made into world-class, age-worthy wines with bold tannins and firm structure, it also grows well in less-than-perfect sites and can yield, with a little care, an easy-drinking, fruit-forward wine that still has some personality—some earthy notes, perhaps, or a hint of cocoa.

In short, we think Miles, of Sideways fame, was just being snobby when, in a full-on tantrum, he exclaimed (rather infamously), “I am not drinking any (expletive) Merlot!” He may have had a great palate, but we can have more class—and a good glass of Merlot to boot.


Post a Comment

<< Home