Almost blue-black in colour and velvety on the palate, magical merlot is one of the world’s most versatile varietals, according to R James Mullen
Local wine guru R James Mullen sings the praises of versatile merlot, an oftendismissed varietal but nevertheless a grape that is one of the stalwarts of red wine production around the world
Looking for a red wine that seems to go with nearly everything? Merlot is one of your best bets for gala anniversary commemorations or casual pool parties. Lighter in those astringent tannins than cabernet sauvignon with medium body and flavours associated with blackberries, chocolate and hints of coffee, it is a natural pairing for everything from beef and pork to chicken and even grilled salmon or tuna.
As most wine drinkers will recall, merlot took what might be described as a blow to the solar plexus after the release of the film Sideways in 2004. Through the thinly veiled descriptions of women the male co-stars had dated, the rom-com featured an ongoing denigration of merlot as predictably boring compared to scintillating and challenging pinot noir. Sales of merlot dropped significantly during the next year while those of pinot noir made substantial gains, at least in America.
In fact, merlot sales had been gradually declining globally prior to Sideways as consumers opted to try different wine varieties from Argentina, Chile and South Africa, as well as more pinot noir. That said, despite the anomaly of a decrease in the growth rate of sales, merlot remains the most widely planted red grape in France and has increased acreage worldwide due in large part to its early ripening and reliably predictable flavours and balance.
Merlot usually constitutes 90 per cent—if not the total grape variety—in wines from the famed right bank Bordeaux properties of St Emilion and Pomerol, with premium priced Chateaux Petrus, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Angelus among them. A bottle of Petrus to salute this anniversary issue of Thailand Tatler would certainly bring smiles all around, provided the buyer can muster a smile after picking up the 86,000 baht per bottle tab! These are truly collector quality wines produced in very small quantities with prices among the most precious on the planet.
More down-to-earth is the vast majority of merlot made for everyday enjoyment at prices that don’t require mortgaging your house. California leads merlot production in the US with brands from Beaulieu, Frog’s Leap, Shafer and Duckhorn among others available locally. These are wines redolent in berry and cherry fruit flavours, with enough body and balance to lend pleasure to a host of food choices from burgers to grilled seabass. Better yet, many are priced in the 1,000 - 1,500 baht range!
Finally, please do remember that red wines are made and stored at cellar temperature, which means 16°C to 18°C. That’s the temperature at which they should be served— not so-called room temperature. Enjoy!
VALUE PROPOSITION While the top merlots can command prices running into the high tens of thousands of baht,there are many labels out there that can be enjoyed for much more modest prices