The grape with star power, despite its PR problem
By Christopher Waters, QMI Agency
Merlot is a grape with some public relations issues. Sommeliers and connoisseurs dismiss it for being too commercial or pedestrian when compared with the more edgy red wines fashioned from Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese or Malbec.
Wine geeks will tell you that it lacks the spirituality of Pinot Noir, the serious character of Tempranillo and the spicy intensity of Syrah or Shiraz. You could say it is the wine world’s Ben Affleck.
Despite its negative approval rating and perceived shortcomings, it remains a viable and valuable member of the red wine family because it’s capable of consistently producing soft, supple red wines that people enjoy.
Certainly winemakers in Bordeaux owe a huge debt to the forthcoming personality of the grape. It’s influence even in areas where Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape can be seen in Bordeaux reds that are coming to market with smoother texture and more apparent fruit. French vintners have learned that modern wine lovers aren’t cellaring wines, waiting for their drinkability to improve with maturity.
California and Australia meanwhile continue to craft juicy, appealing red wines that are ideal companions for entertaining. The soft, supple style of wines from these two regions is responsible for the bad reputation of the grape with purists. But the best examples have found a way to deliver big fruit flavours along with some more earthy and elemental notes that add welcome interest and complexity.
Here are three affordable wines that showcase the diversity of Merlot in its various regional expressions. Each makes a case that the grape has star power when cast in the right light.
Wines of the Week:
Beringer 2009 Stone Cellars Merlot
California, United States
BC $11.99 (395194) | AB $14 (733323) | ON $13.95 (462473)
Beringer is one of the Napa Valley’s enduring premium estates, which also sources grapes from across California to produce its Stone Cellars label. This Merlot puts the emphasis on sweet cherry flavours accented by some mint and earthy notes. This is juicy enough to enjoy on its own, with firm structure to make it a winning match for a meal.
Château Ducla 2009 Bordeaux Supérieur
AB $17 | ON $14.95 (162461)
Bordeaux’s 2009 vintage prompted hosannas and hyperbole from international wine writers. The quality of that so-called “vintage of the century,” however, is easy to see in this affordable red. A blend of Cabernet and Merlot, this savoury and polished wine has a core of fruit that you don’t often see in inexpensive bottles from Bordeaux. In Alberta, the 2004 vintage gives a look at nicely mature red.
Wolf Blass 2010 Yellow Label Merlot
South Australia, Australia
BC $15.99 | AB $17 | ON $16.55 (538637)
Made in the soft, approachable house style, Wolf Blass Yellow Label Merlot showcases ripe fruit and chocolate aromas and flavours. This is a red with mass appeal that will please most palates with its velvety texture.