Yadda yadda yadda… soft, plummy… blah blah blah. Boring Merlot. Must be boring because I used to like it when I knew less about wine. Plus, I saw that god-awful film Sideways – I’ll never get those two hours and seven minutes back of course, but the one message I do remember taking from that film is ‘Merlot bad, Pinot Noir good’.
Still, way back in the deepest recesses of my drink-addled memory, I do remember Merlot being thought of in more flattering terms. In fact, I’m sure when I was doing all my WSET stuff it was referred to as one of the ‘Four Noble Grape Varieties’. Must have been a typo – they must have meant Malbec. Yeah, that’ll be it – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Riesling and Chardonnay. (Come to think of it, those other three aren’t looking so hot right now, but that’s another blog…)
But wait, there’s that nagging feeling again…
There must be more to Merlot – some of the most expensive wines in the world are made exclusively from Merlot! Of course, many of these are not meant to be supped by mere mortals like you and I, but rather locked in vaults, to be picked up and observed by their hideously wealthy ‘curators’ from time to time – nevertheless, they must surely have something about them?
And there must be more half-decent Merlot out there?
Anyway, all this had been at the back of my mind, and then one night last week I had a dream. It must have been a dream because there I was with all my esteemed colleagues in the tasting room, and all of us were getting excited about a pair of Merlot wines. Moreover, these wines both hailed from Piemonte in Italy, not necessarily somewhere you might associate with the variety. It must have been all the cheese I ate the night before, but it was so realistic!
Then imagine my surprise when a few days later my colleagues and I were all (yes!) in the tasting room and all (yes! yes!) marvelling at those same Merlot wines! This time I was wearing trousers, but in all other respects the scene played out in exactly the same way. Strange times…
So I’d better tell you what they were then!
Tenuta Il Cascinone ‘Soliti’ Merlot, Piemonte 2016
I’ve been raving about this to anyone who’ll listen (and many who won’t) since I first tasted the 2016 vintage. This is exclusively produced from a tiny plot on Araldica’s Cascinone Estate, and responsibility for the winemaking here has recently passed to Carlo Manera. His influence certainly appears to be positive as this is by far the best Soliti I have tasted for some time. Very supple and with a lick of barrel oak that adds structure and complexity rather than any obvious ‘oaky’ flavour. At 14.5%, the alcohol is quite high but it wears it very well and feels like a perfectly balanced wine. I hate the word smooth in tasting notes, but this is like George Clooney after a fine sanding. Offering ridiculously good value, this is currently the House Wine at… my house.
Marchesi di Grésy Monferrato Rosso 2011
Forget the word Rosso, this is 100% Merlot from di Grésy’s Monte Colombo estate in the Monferrato hills. Unsurprisingly given the age of the wine, this new release is a very different style to the Soliti, and easily the best vintage I’ve tasted since the wonderful 2006. There is no shortage of succulent damson fruit, rich complexity and perfectly poised acidity. This is a very ‘classic’ style Merlot and would more than hold its own with some (far more expensive) right bank claret. If Soliti is an everyday Merlot, this is a weekend treat – yet at twice the price of the former, this manages to offer equally good value for money.
Circumstance Merlot 2013/15
St Emilion with guts… and legs. South facing plots ensure these grapes aren’t baked in the Stellenbosch sun – the climate together with Nadia Barnard’s influence at the winemaking helm ensures that Waterkloof’s production continues to go from strength to strength. 35 days on skins with manual pigeage twice a day ensures this wine is anything but shy. No fining and only the lightest of filtration makes sure that the generous bramble fruit and spicy finish remains untamed.