Friday, December 20, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Ho! Ho! Ho! -- Go Fo' Merlot!


If you’re a wine drinker of a certain age (say basically anywhere in Gen X), odds are decent that one of your first experiences with “grownup” wine was with Merlot, which exploded in popularity in the early 90’s, briefly eclipsing Cabernet Sauvignon in domestic demand.

Why wouldn’t it? Merlot is a wonderful grape. The flavor is very approachable – and it responds well to whatever a winemaker wants to do. Merlot can be a plummy fruit bomb or a subtle, graphite-infused glass of sensuality. Merlot’s the backbone of probably 80% of the Bordeaux you’ve had in your life, and it plays very well with other grapes in blends. Among red grapes, it’s arguably the most flexible primary varietal.

But then came 2004 and “I’m not drinking any fucking merlot.” The Sideways Slump is real, and it’s the opposite of spectacular. The damage dear Miles did to this poor grape goes beyond the immediate drop in demand. When Merlot disappeared from many a wines-by-the-glass menu, not only did my g-g-g-generation stop drinking the stuff, but Millennials were left to their own devices for a starter wine – and they decided, “Nah. Not for me” before making poor choices underneath a handle of Fireball.

So now, practically no one knows Merlot. I don’t know when the last time was that I heard someone order a glass or bottle of the stuff. I think that’s due for a change.

If you’re with me on this little challenge, one place I might recommend starting is in the South American aisle of your wine store, specifically the Chilean section. Chile cranks out a great quantity of the stuff, and a lot of it is high quality. And until Commander Smallgloves decides to levy tariffs on everything worthwhile that comes over our borders, the stuff’s pretty reasonably priced. If you’re willing to stretch a little bit on price, there are some simply superb bottles out there to be had.

One recent example I had the chance to try is the Marques de Casa Concha 2015 Merlot from the Maule region in central Chile. This wine, sold under the Concha y Toro label, was a $25 container of real deliciousness.

I thought there was a lovely bouquet on this. To me, it smells of plums and cherry pie. There’s a really nice fullness on the body, along with flavors of more red fruit and blackberries alongside a solid smoky tannin. The finish has real staying power as some initial tartness drops down into chocolate and smoke at the end. There’s a real “roundness” to the whole experience and I thought it was a damned sexy wine.

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I had it with a West African stew we made which included chicken, sweet potatoes, and collard greens, all seasoned with peanuts and peanut butter. I know, it sounds like a weird pairing, but it absolutely worked, much to my surprise. Texture on texture. The stew had a smooth round flavor as well – and the wine’s fruit played off the peanutty richness. And needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), it was divine with some chocolate at the end of the day.

This will be the last post of 2019, more than likely. Thanks to all of you for continuing to hang in with me through all the changes of the last few years. Looking forward to a wonderful 2020. Happy holidays, everyone!



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