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Something for the Weekend 11: Merlot

Poor old Merlot. Even before Miles spat the now infamous ‘I am not drinking any fucking Merlot’ in Sideways, this variety was rarely spoken about with love and affection. Yet this is the second most widely planted wine grape in the world so why the lack of respect? Well some of it comes down to the promise (real or not) that the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir can deliver a more thrilling wine experience. Hmmm. Whilst this may be true (lovers of Pomerol look away now) too often it is a fallacy. I have spent far too much time, effort and money, hunting for that elusive bottle of Burgundian Pinot Noir that will make me cry like a baby as it reveals its haunting and ethereal charms. Equally, varietal Cabernet Sauvignon is often anything but charming, all edges and bones with a hole in its middle where the guts should be. No, Merlot is more the girl (or boy) next door, with flesh, sweet perfume and an alluring curve to the belly.

With this in mind I chose seven Merlot dominant wines to taste blind (or semi-blind in my case) with some of my students and sommeliers of Taipei. All the wines were of good if not superb quality and represented regions as diverse as Napa and Walla Walla in the States, Pomerol and St.Emilion in Bordeaux as well as Bolgheri (Italy), Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) and Stellenbosch (South Africa). Below are the three wines that I felt best-demonstrated Merlot’s comeliness.

Chateau La Dominique, St.Emilion Grand Cru Classé, 2009, 14.5%
Grape:
86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: 70% new French oak
Note: Meaty, ripe blackberry and with just enough tobacco savouriness to add some complexity, this is concentrated and full bodied if a little hefty to be considered elegant. Enjoyable and should improve over the coming decade.
Price: 2,200NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: icheers.com.tw

L’Ecole No 41, Estate Merlot, Walla Walla (Washington), 2008, 14.5%
Grape:
80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine-making: 40% new French oak
Note: Developed in the glass to reveal both red and dried fruit, vanilla and a concentration that hinted at a warmer climate. The tannins remain firm (more old-world in style) but this has a certain charm that will again reward patience over the next five years.
Price: 2,500NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: icheers.com.tw

Clos du Val, Napa Valley Merlot, 2010, 13.5%
Grape:
85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot
Wine-making: 25% new French oak
Note: My favourite of the seven wines tasted and the third cheapest. Tutti-frutti nose always brings to mind the West Coast of America. This has just enough of everything; up-front fruit, tannin, spice, body and persistence to achieve a harmonious and satisfying whole.
Price: 1,700NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: icheers.com.tw

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