Tuesday, June 26, 2012

mmm for Merlot

Last night's wine class focused on Merlot - an important grape that for some reason doesn't seem to get it's share of play in my wine drinking habits.  I rarely think about buying a Merlot at the store, rarely recommend them to friends, and rarely purchase them in restaurants.  This isn't for any better reason than that none has stood out in my memory enough for me to say "oh yeah, I really want to have this wine again".  Last night showed a little bit why that is.

Merlot hails from France, in the famous Right Bank appellations of Bordeaux, and is famous in Pomerol and St. Emilion for making lovely, velvety, plush wines of character.  It does well in cool climates, so Ontario has had success with Merlot; warmer climates are more challenging because this grape can overripen quickly, which is a hindrance for places like California.  Of all the wines of the world we tasted last night, the French wines were definitely the stars.  The Right Bank of Bordeaux has just the right combination of aspect, soil types, climate, expertise, and exacting standards to make outstanding Merlot wine where so many others fall just short.

I think that like in previous posts I'll break up my favourites - one new world and one old world - otherwise I'd be telling you about two French wines that really need no new publicity!  So, my favourite new world wine was from Ontario, which surprised me very much.  The wine is Megalomaniac Bigmouth Merlot 2008, from Niagara.  For no other reason than that I'm generally very wary of red wines from Ontario (I think we make great wine here, but red just isn't so much our strong suit), I have seen this many times in the liquor store and never once purchased it.  I now know I was missing out!  This wine had aromas of graphite, green pepper, plum, and sweet red cherry, with tastes of cherry, plum, and smooth mocha.  The palate was refreshing and silky, exhibiting the softness and strength of a nicely-made Merlot, and a medium+ finish.  This was the first wine we tasted, and I was thoroughly impressed.  Many of the new world wines that followed could barely muster a medium finish, leaving this wine alone in that quality category.

For my favourite old world wine I'm really struggling to choose between an Italian or a French wine.  I think, because Italian Merlot isn't as famous as the sophisticated French and I'm feeling in a love-the-underdog mood today, I'll tell you about the Italian.  This wine was Frescobaldi Lamaione Merlot 2008 from Tuscany - the famous home of Sangiovese.  If it wasn't for the existence of Super-Tuscan wines, this varietal wouldn't get any space in the region.  Thanks to the wonders of wine history, Merlot is permitted to be grown here, and this wine was a gem.  It was a deep garnet colour with aromas of anise, plum, coconut, and balsamic.  It had a strong attack on the palate with flavours of tangerine, cherry, plum, and ginger chocolate, with a long silky finish of dark cocoa.  Delicious!

Next week: Nebbiolo,Sangiovese,Tempranillo - oh my!

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