Top Merlot recommendations
When it comes to
finding a really good Merlot, you need to choose wisely! Bill Belkin, category
manager for our Wines
& Spirits locations, explains why.
Merlot: What a flashpoint for a vinous debate! In this season of
presidential prevarications, let’s look at the facts:
- Merlot is what is known
as a “noble varietal:” a grape that was originally planted by kings and queens.
- Merlot is a softer, more
early ripening alternative to Cabernet and therefore does not have the tannic
qualities that sometimes scare folks away from Cabernet.
- Merlot is also one of
only five red varietals approved to constitute a Bordeaux wine – unarguably the
most famous wine region in the world!
- Merlot took an unfair
beating from Hollywood in that fictional film many years ago.
- Merlot has also been a
“victim” of many wineries who were racing to capitalize on its popularity by bottling
cheap, under-ripe, thin, herbaceous versions that are hard to smell and harder
to drink. A perfect storm if you will, to basically relegate a once popular
grape to the “back of the wine-bus!”
Here’s a little secret from a career wine-geek: Good Merlot was
not – and still is not – cheap! You may find an under-$10 Chardonnay that you
think is dandy, but an under-$10 Merlot? Not likely. As I already mentioned,
Merlot has a thinner skin and ripens earlier than Cabernet, therefore it’s
quite site-specific and is susceptible to a whole bunch of ripening and flavor
development issues. In other words, choose carefully.
The flavors? How about cedar, sandalwood, mocha and black
cherries? Who doesn’t like those things? Merlot is not a tannic beast either, perfect
for a lean cut of steak cooked medium-rare to medium, or BBQ chicken with a
glaze. Yup, Merlot is the ticket. And as a blending partner, Merlot has no
peer! In fact, many wines from Bordeaux, including an important co-star in THAT
movie, have big dollop of Merlot in them.
Please do not hesitate to ask your Lunds & Byerlys Wines &
Spirits manager for a few suggestions. They will be more than happy to help. Here
are a few of mine at various price points:
$10-$15: Columbia Crest H3. Anything from Horse Heaven Hills appellation
in Washington will be first class!
$20+: Try a Merlot from my mate Nick Goldschmidt! In fact ANYTHING from
Nick will be 100% varietal and single vineyard. Great Merlot.
$50+: Shafer Merlot. End of story. Try a Shafer Merlot and all
others will melt away at that price point. And for an unmatched wine where the
county lines of Sonoma and Napa cross directly through the wine, try Pride
Merlot. When available, it’s around $70 – but worth every penny.
And with our fall sale starting October 27 (that’s tomorrow!),
it’s a perfect time to pre-order some of these better wines and save big money.