Merlot is suddenly uncool -- but the great ones still shine
Thursday, February 24, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
By W. Blake Gray, Chronicle Staff Writer
Here's my favorite evidence of Merlot's fall from grace. An interview with "Sideways" actress Virginia Madsen by writer Strawberry Saroyan in the Jan. 16 edition of the New York Times includes the following passage:
"They brought out this wine and we were like, this is really good, thinking it was the pinot as usual." It turned out to be a Merlot: horrors. "If you saw it on a menu, you'd throw it across a room. It was a Merlot from Malibu." Only connoisseurs could have such conviction.
Actresses can be forgiven for shallowness, but note the position of the quotes: when the New York Times calls someone who would throw a good-tasting wine across the room just because it's Merlot a "connoisseur," the grape has an image problem.
Though Cabernet Sauvignon is the star of France's Bordeaux region, Merlot is actually the most-planted grape there, according to Bordeaux.com, the official site of Bordeaux wines. Merlot ripens earlier, a welcome hedge for wineries against autumn rains. In the bottle, its gentle qualities have long been prized in top estates' blends to help tame Cabernet's tannins.
This is true all over the world -- most of the time, wines labeled Cabernet Sauvignon also contain some Merlot, and vice versa. They go together like Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Cab) and Maria Shriver (without whom he'd be unpalatably harsh).
The wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol, on Bordeaux's right bank, are based largely on Merlot, but consumers are mostly unaware of this because Bordeaux wineries don't usually list varietals on the label.