Anything but ... Merlot!
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed December 21, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
Following up on Wednesday's discussion about white-wine alternatives to Chardonnay, let's turn our attention today to Merlot ("Mair-low"), the RED grape that many wine enthusiasts currently love to "bash."
Like Chardonnay, Merlot is a grape of demonstrable quality. Although it's historically most prominent as a team player in the blend of red grapes that make up Bordeaux, it's the dominant element in most Bordeaux from the "Right Bank," the noteworthy regions like St.-Emilion and Pomerol, where it makes up 95 percent of the sought-after and expensive Chateau Petrus.
But also like Chardonnay, Merlot has become so popular that it suffers somewhat from over-exposure, particularly in modestly priced renditions where it's made fruity, soft and sometimes slightly sweet, a popular style that's best suited for sipping by the glass like a cocktail.
For something with a little more heft and flavor interest, I turn to the earthy, complex and somewhat under-appreciated red-grape blends of the Rhone and Languedoc in France, wild assortments of such varieties as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsaut and ... well, you get the idea.