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Merlot Luvliness

Merlot Luvliness

Merlot Luvliness

Merlot is considered to be an entry level, easy drinking, palate teaser by geeky wine folk.

Typically Merlot is a smooth fruity wine (plum, black cherry) with medium body and medium tannin, produced by fleshy plump grapes in wine regions all over the world.

The Merlot most of us know is just as I described. We love it and drink it by the bucketload! It's easy to drink, doesn't offend our palates or make us pull sour faces.

Merlot Luvliness

The thing with Merlot is that it changes (like many grape varieties) depending upon where it comes from.

Merlot grown in warm climates IS like I described above and is often sold as 100% Merlot in the bottle  - the bottle that is clearly marked Merlot so that we know what we're getting. Merlot grown in cooler climates isn't like that at all, well especially when it's young and part of a blend.

Trying to describe the differences between the two types of Merlot is complex and (sometimes) boring to those who simply want to try a new wine so I'll try to explain it in plain talk.

Merlot Luvliness

Warm Climate Merlot

Merlot grapes are fleshy and plump so in hot/warm climates the flesh inside holds a lot of sugar and flavour while the skins develop and ripen quickly keeping tannin low (tannin is in the skin and seeds of grapes, the thicker the skin, the more tannin). Sugar turns to alcohol during the fermentation process so grapes have to be harvested before they have too much sugar or the wine will be "hot" (a term used to describe a lot of alcohol in wine).  Wines from warm climates tend to have a higher alcohol content that cool climate Merlots. As the grapes develop relatively quickly, tannin is minimalized allowing the skins to have fruitier flavours.

In a Nutshell - Warm Climate Merlots are often bottled as 100% merlot, have loads of fruit flavour, less tannin and are what wine-geeks call silky and generous. What's not to like about that?

 

Cool Climate Merlot

By contrast cool climate Merlots take longer to ripen allowing the skins to thicken and produce more tannin. Sugar levels are lower so alcohol levels are lower and sometimes a longer fermentation process. Because the grapes spend longer times on the vines they pick up other flavours from the surrounding environment (a term called "terroir") so along with their fruity flavours there are often nuances of mineral, licorice, pepper and tobacco. To make cool climate more drinkable it is often blended with other varietals, most commonly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec (making up the classic "Bordeaux Blend")

In a Nutshell - Cool Climate Merlots are often more structured (meaning there are many different layers of flavour and texture to work through) with tougher tannins and can take time to become silky and smooth. Also these can be difficult to drink for those looking for "fruity and fleshy" as they rarely are. Given time though and a cool climate Merlot is incredible and an unrivaled treat.

Merlot Luvliness

Where to go from here?

Well, warm climate Merlots are pretty well signposted label wise so I'll leave them alone for now.

Cool climate Merlots aren't so easy to navigate unless you have a bit of direction so here's a few pointers to get you started:

France - Bordeaux is home to Merlot so try some of these: Pomerol, St. Emilion, Bordeaux - Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux - Côtes de Blaye

Italy - Fruili Merlots, Veneto Merlots, some Super Tuscans

Switzerland - Ticino Merlots (if you can find them)

Merlot Luvliness

One for the cellar:

Here I'll be adding wines that I think are awesome as I find them (and drink them). There'll be no long-winded tasting notes but (hopefully) a quick description and a link to where you can find it.

I'd love your feedback too, tell me what you think of them if you get to try them.

Pomerol

La Croix Taillefer 2005 Pomerol

I cracked this bottle yesterday, it had been in my cellar for a few years and I have been eagerly eyeing it up for ages. I have to say it didn't dissapoint at all, it was everything I hoped for and worth the wait (which normally i'm adverse to!)

Smooth, silky, soft, fruity with just the right amount of tannin for me. I had it as a glass (or 2) on it's own but I can imagine this with a lightly grilled meat such as lamb or even something like grilled Aubergines (eggplant) would be lovely with this.

Not cheap though - this cost me around €18 a bottle so a bit of a treat.

Bought it in the Foire aux Vins (wine fair) in Eleclerc supermarket in France

UK - Waitrose are stocking the 2005 vintage

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Exploring Wines in Provence

Exploring Wines in Provence

Exploring Wines in Provence

I have been lucky enough to spend a good part of this winter in Provence where I made it my mission to find out as much as I could about the region, it's food and it's wines. 

As I first wrote in my article Discovering Ventoux Provence, there was much work to be done and much wine to be tasted. Mission accomplished however, and now it's time to move my (slightly larger) self to a new part of France and begin another journey.

Exploring Wines in Provence

Spring comes early in Provence although the ever present Mistral wind can make things a little Baltic in some places.

Barren sticklike vineyards and orchards are transformed by fragrant blossom and vibrant green foliage. The daily temperature is a comfortable 18-20ºc, restaurant terraces are opening up and lunch outside is a nice change from being inside.

Leaving winter behind marks a change in dining habits from heavier dishes to lighter and in Provence there is no shortage of seasonal produce to choose from.

At the moment it is Asparagus and strawberry season and in a couple of weeks the first cherries of the season will be ready to chow down on.

Along with the change in diet there is also a transition from heavy red wines to lighter reds, whites and, of course, rosé.

Exploring Wines in Provence

Vibrant green olive trees and the almost-always-blue skies of Provence.

Exploring Wines in Provence

The picturesque village of Gordes in southern Provence - well worth a visit.

 

Cotes du Rhone

The red wines of Provence are pretty hearty affairs made using Grenache based blends and are incredibly varied.

The region also borders the famous Rhône Valley and although this article is primarily Provence and it's wines it's really hard not to mention a couple of places that really are just next door and on the other side of the tracks as it were.

Seguret, Sablet and Gigondas are 3 of the 18 villages that make up Côtes du Rhône Villages . These villages are a stones throw away from Carpentras where i'm staying and all produce very different wines. Be sure to click on the links to these places as they each have characteristics that will appeal for different reasons.

You may or may not have heard of these villages before but if you see them around give them a try - you won't be disappointed.

My preference is Gigondas, and I have long been a fan. After a visit to the famous Chateau de Saint Cosmé and a few other vineyards I am an even bigger fan - although my credit card should have been left it home!

Exploring Wines in Provence

While the change of season brings about a change in diet and the need to drink lighter wines there is one style of wine that has, in my opinion, a place at the table all year round.

I am talking about fizz of course!

In Provence there is no shortage of fizz, you just doesn't make enough to export so you rarely see it on supermarket shelves.

A local fizz that I have become rather partial to is a Blanc de Blancs made from chardonnay and by method traditionelle is called La Romaine from the Cave la Romaine which is located in a town called Vaison la Romaine.

Unfortunately I can't find a link to it online but it has super fresh fruit and isn't too toasty making it perfect for all occasions!

Exploring Wines in Provence

Change is a-foot in Provence!

Sure there are great wines being made using traditional grapes and techniques that we are used to BUT times are changing and the face of Provencal wines is getting a lift.

Winemakers have introduced new grape varieties into the region and are starting to use different techniques and blends to produce some incredibly interesting wines.

How can they do that legally?

Well most producers are staying away from the AOC level and produce wines at the VDQS level where they have more flexibility and less restrictions.

(There are a lot of new letters showing up on European wine labels that are confusing to a lot of people  so to understand a bit more about what you're seeing check out this simple explanation from the International Wine Guild)

Not all wines have hit the mark, I can attest to that having tasted a large amount of them during my research (hic!) but some did and in time many more will so watch this space!

Case and point comes from this white that I found at Domaine Champ-Long which is located within arms reach of Carpentras where I am staying.

The wine "Les Gressannes" is made with 50% White Grenache and 50% Rousanne - both usual for whites and indigenous to the area . However, what one saw and what one tasted were totally different.

To the eye the wine was light-bodied, green and crisp almost reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc in appearance. To the nose and palate - the over use of new oak masked any fruit and took away any crispness making it more of a full bodied chard that should have had a deep golden hue but didn't.

The wine was confused!  It was interesting but I don't think it was probably the best representation.

Exploring Wines in Provence

Finally I come to Rosé

Although, sadly, I don't have any photos as the wine's don't seem to last long in our house!

Provence is known for it's rosé's and there is no shortage to choose from.

But which one to choose?

Make no mistake, there are 100's and prices from a couple of Euros to €20 and up - a huge range.

My advice - don't spend too much on rosé but don't opt for the two-buck-chuck option either.

I've tried both - the more expensive are just that, expensive, and for no real quality or taste reason over others of lesser value.

The cheap and cheerful are...hmmm...ok but often leave a bad after taste and are guaranteed to give you a headache.

Look for mid-range price wise - in € around the 5 - 20€ mark.

Location is key to me!

Provence is a big place geographically so as a rule of thumb (and this is my thumb, not others) use these pointers:

The darker the rosé - the more tannic and full bodied the wine. 

Rosé from the northern parts of Provence (Vaucluse, Drôme, Hautes Alps, de Provence) tend to be heavier, tannic and more suited to food than drank on their own.

Lighter wines come from the southern parts of Provence - I love rosé from the Var region, it's almost always light, fruity and refreshing and rarely give me a headache.

Rosé's from the Buches du Rhône region are brilliant with seafood and tend to have a slight saltiness.

Exploring Wines in Provence

The End Bit...

So, i've been in Provence for 3 months and feel like I have just started to scratch the surface wine wise.

The region itself is incredible and I have to admit to being quite smitten with it - there is a reason it is SO popular.

Wine wise - the region is a treasure trove and the lid is just being lifted in terms of quality wine BUT food and wine are religion around these parts and it's hard not to succomb to that.

In the future you will be able to find wines (in your country) from Provence that have labels easier to understand and wines easier to drink. Producers here "get" that to sell their wines people need to know what they are drinking and that good wine has to be in the bottle not any-old-slop .

I can't argue with any of it, the change is a good one and I hope to see more innovative wines in the future.

Put Provence on your list as a place to visit one day - it's worth it.

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Shiraz

Shiraz

Shiraz or Syrah

One and the same, Shiraz and Syrah continue to be a crowd pleaser all over the world.

Shiraz has been made for centuries in Europe and at very much at home in the Rhône Valley where it is the major grape variety in wines such as Côte Rotie and Crozes Hermitage.

It's popularity, and the fact that it thrives in warm climates, has led it to be grown in other countries where it has excelled and brought shiraz as we knew it to another level.

Shiraz

WHERE:

France - Rhône Valley, Mediterranean Blends - along with Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Carignan

Australia - Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale.

Argentina - Mendoza

USA - Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Napa, Sonoma, Columbia Valley

Chile - Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley

South Africa - Stellenbosch, Paarl

Italy - Tuscany, Sicily

 

WHAT: 

Origin is key to Shiraz - it takes on different faces depending on where it is grown.

Old World Shiraz is different to New World Shiraz.

It's one of the darkest reds around and depending where it comes from can be full bodied and have a huge amount of tannins.

 

FLAVOURS/TASTE:

Dark fruit flavours, pepper, spice, plum, blueberry, black olive, black tea, leather.

Old World Shiraz tend to have more acidity and earthy-herbaceous aromas.

New World-styled Syrah are usually more fruit forward with lots of spice and higher alcohol.

 

OTHER NAMES: Syrah, Sirac, Marsanne Noir, Entournerein, Serène,

 

FOOD PAIRINGS: 

Most Shiraz is food friendly wine (needing food to make it complete) however some of the more fruit forward New World wines are great on their own.

Big wines need big food and Shiraz is no exception.

NW (New World) Shiraz excels with Burgers, BBQ, Braised meat

OW (Old World) excel with roasts, game, stews, roasted vegetables in season, herbs - especially Herbs de Provence which are abundant in the Rhône Valley.

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Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Like many wine lovers the Rhône valley, and it's wines, intrigues me and has done ever since I became interested in the subject. One of my earliest wine memories involved a bottle (or two) of Côtes du Rhône, a rather large chunk of Stilton cheese and a wonderful raucous evening spent with great friends.

Bizarrely since I moved to the Pyrénées from Canada 7 years ago I haven't managed to make the time to explore the region at all. Business, and life, got in the way along with a million great places to visit in Southwest France.

Now, with our business sold we're about to start a new venture across country in the French Alps. While house hunting is fun, it's no fun in peak winter season with sky high rental prices, houses half buried in snow so you can't see them, and sketchy mountain roads made sketchier by crazy locals who drive like they are on a rally circuit. So we've decided to "tough" it out just south of the Alps in Provence until the end of winter and things become a little more accessible.

What better excuse to check out the region that has captivated me for years.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

For now I'm talking about the area, once known as Côtes du Ventoux, now known simply as AOC Ventoux. It's here that we have made our home for the next 4 months, in a small hamlet just outside of Carpentras, the truffle center of Provence.

In terms of wine, the Ventoux area has always been a bit of a poor cousin to the Rhône proper which lies just to the north and the Luberon which lies just to the south. Distance wise "just" means kilometers, and not many: The Rhône Crus of Beaumes de Venise and Vacqueyras are 6 and 13 km away and the boundary of the Luberon is roughly 45km south of us.

The landscape here is rugged and almost every view dominated by the giant mountain of Ventoux, Mont Ventoux. The area is less manicured than it's southern Luberon cousin and property a fraction of the price but by no means less stunning and picturesque.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

I have included some links here about the location and proximity of Ventoux to the other regions along with some interesting articles on this beautiful part of France - there is so much written already that it seems a shame not to include some of it.

Here's a great article from Decanter about Ventoux Travel

A good comprehensive guide to Provence

A quick and simple read about Ventoux gastronomy and wine

Of course who better to get Rhône information from than Jancis Robinson

and finally Wine Spectator

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Arriving in any wine region over stimulates the senses, well mine anyway. There is row upon row of vines, multiple vineyard signs at every turn, lots of small skinny vineyard tractors driving at full 35km per hour tilt and a plethora of wine choices in every store, none of which you are familiar with. 

Ventoux didn't disappoint in stimulating the senses at all, bringing beautiful vistas at every turn to be met with a gob-smacked "wow" at every turn. 

Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it. Even in January when the leaves have fallen, the vines look skeletal and the mistral wind blows hard and cold there is an underlying richness to the landscape. I can only imagine how beautiful this place is in the summer with vibrant purple and blue lavender fields sharing the landscape with lush green vines and rolling Tuscan style hills - definitely worthy of it's reputation. 

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Unsurprisingly, as a summer destination, Provence shuts in January. Open restaurants are hard to find, markets are sparse and many shops have pulled down their shutters not to be open again until the end of March. Vineyard workers tough it out among the vines spending cold days winter pruning and roads once teeming with tourist traffic are quiet and empty. 

All this hasn't bothered us though, in fact we like it, for us the region is shown in a more beautiful light. It's not every day you can drive through La Gorges de la Nesque, one of the busiest roads in Ventoux, stop the car in the middle of the road, let the dog out, take a bunch of photos and with never a whiff of another vehicle along the whole route. 

Provence may be shut but we are, of course, in France where there is always a boulangerie open with fresh baked breads and pastries and a local bar for a coffee or a different wine to try...no problem in my book!

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

The wines of Ventoux have been, and still are for the most part, a gamble as to what you are going to get in your glass certainly with the reds. This used to be mainly due to lack of investment and the fact that most wines were made to be sold as bulk or cheap "table" wine, leaving the prestigious neighbors of the Rhône to produce the world renowned wines we are all familiar with. 

Most peoples experience of Ventoux wine will be of rosé. Provence excels at rosé, the epiphany of summer wine drinking which I think should be renamed "summer happiness in a bottle".

The salmon pink elixir is ideally drank sitting outside by a pool on a hot day, under the shade of a vine or tree, bowl of olives and a slice of juicy melon to nibble on while something sizzles on a BBQ.

Can you hear the deep sigh?

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

Outside of rosé it's the cheap reds that you may know; 4 - 6 euros is the norm although 6 is a bit on the expensive side!

Of course it's not summer right now so rosé's are off the menu making way for winter warmer reds. 

76% of Ventoux wine production is red. Grenache based red wine blends which range from light and fruity to deep, dark and herbaceous and everything in between. 

I have made it my mission to try as many as is healthily possible in a quest to find a wine that truly blows my socks off.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

I get the impression that things have changed a bit in AOC Ventoux, especially since researching some of the produce. Sure you have to sift through a lot of different wines to find one of note but the more memorable wines are easier to find than before.

I've been pleasantly surprised and the socks are definitely off!

There's lots to play with here - in terms of terroir it's a veritable herb garden from the abundant mountain garrigue, rosemary and thyme to fragrant lavender on the flatter lands. Mix all that in with a ton of sunshine, heat and soils ranging from clay and limestone and you're looking at some sunny, warm, fruity, herby loveliness in a bottle. 

Of course I'd be struck down if I ever described it like that to a wine maker. We all know that so much goes into making a great wine but that's the guts of it and I have to say they ARE rather drinkable!

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

The climate in Provence brings out the best in the classic Mediterranean grapes that thrive here - dusty, spicy Grenache, dark fruity Syrah, tannic Mourvèdre - the main grape varieties along with acidic Carignan and a dash of perfumed Cinsault for finesse, all blended in different (but AOC controlled) percentages to the winemakers preference. 

There in lies the key to great new wines from Ventoux, Provence.

The Ventoux AOC allows flexibility in terms of the blend which must be between 50% - 80% Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre depending on where the site is located but leaves the rest at the discretion of the winemaker. It's a playground for those wanting to make different and exciting new style wines of the region.

Discovering Ventoux, Provence

There is land to be had here too and by the sound of it, at a fair price. There are many unattended vineyards waiting for an injection of life and new innovative winemakers are moving to the region, rejuvenating land and are starting to make great wines.

Here are a few links to producers that I have come across and who's wines have made an impression on me so far:

The Perrin Family who make incredible wines in the Côtes du Rhône have bought land in Ventoux and produce a range of wines that is starting to gather popularity.

Domaine de Fondrèche is one to watch. I visited and tasted their incredible wines and love their philosophy. Hard work, dedication and a new approach has resulted in superb ageworthy wines that blew the socks off!

Chateau Pesquie is probably the most expensive bottle I found (€25) and it was well worth the splurge.

and finally, for a cheaper option there is a good co-operative called Les Vignerons du Mont Ventoux who produce some pretty good every day wine so if you see their logo or name on a label it's generally a pretty good quaffer.

It's a time of change in AOC Ventoux and exciting times are ahead for those winemakers striving to produce great terroir driven wines - definitely a place to watch. Unfortunately, those wines don't all come in at the €4-6 price range, more like €15-30 but they are worthy and a treat to try...watch this space and AOC Ventoux!

For now i'll continue with my quest in finding out what I can about the Ventoux area of Provence. It's truffle season so i'm going truffle hunting which should be interesting, then there's the Luberon to experience and of course the Rhône Valley. I get the imprerssion that 4 months is no where near long enough and i'd better go out and buy some more socks!

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Food and Wine Pairing 101

Food and Wine Pairing 101

I am forever being asked about Food Pairing and what wine goes well with this or that dish. I have had many frantic last minute texts from people in the wine store staring, like deer in headlights, at the rows of bottles trying to find something to go with a certain dish.

We've all been there, in the restaurant looking at the food menu then looking at the wine menu and having no clue what wine to order. Or being invited to dinner and having no clue what wine to bring.

It's a thing, Food and Wine Pairing, an art. 

If you get it wrong your art is a failure, it doesn't taste "right", doesn't gel, but when you do succeed and get it right it's one of the best things to behold. The marriage of flavours from food and wine become one, complementing each other to form harmony on your palate.

I always say: 

When you get Food and Wine Pairing wrong dinner is meh (ok) but when you get it right dinner is memorable and something your guests will remember for a long time.

It's for that reason Food and Wine Pairing is one of the most popular subjects i'm asked about.

As a Chef and Sommelier I have the best of both worlds when pairing food and wine. I understand food, cooking methods and marrying flavours and I know what wine will make both wine and food a stand out act. All of that and I don't always get it right!

Food and Wine 101

There's a lot of differing opinions about what "should" go with what and, of course, there's the "old school" white wine with fish, red wine with meat theory but in todays culinary and wine world thoughts have to change along with the times. The "old school" train of thought worked and for some things, still does. There is some simple chemistry that cannot be ignored when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing

For example the "Old School" saying that light wine before heavy still stands. A heavy wine can over load your palate and if followed by a light wine their delicate flavours will be lost.

Food and Wine 101

With todays changes in food and food preparation our thoughts need to be extended to the wine we drink with it. The global popularity for food and wine has changed and grown leading to smaller, more intensely flavoured portions. International food, organic, raw and vegetarian food all play a roll in todays market. Add a huge change in the way wine is produced and the amount of new wines on the market and there is a veritable cornucopia of choices available. 

So, while the "Old School" way of thinking is almost a thing of the past, a "New World" approach is necessary. The "New World" way of thinking, if you ask me, is to keep it simple, don't over think it and always be prepared to try new things. If and when you get it right, it's amazing!

Successful Food and Wine Pairing is a difficult thing to get right without the correct information though. Restaurants often have a sommelier who works closely with the head chef when choosing wine for their lists and tasting menus. In wine stores the professionals working there are good at recommending wines when asked but for your average Jo who just wants to know a little bit more about pairing i've written down some pointers to get you started.

Food and Wine Pairing 101

What is Food and Wine Pairing?

Well, simply put, it's food or a dish served with a wine that complement each other. Neither stand out alone as being stronger or more flavoursome than the other, it's just a perfect harmony between the two.

To be honest there is no right or wrong when it comes to Food and Wine Pairing, you can eat what you like with what you like as long as it works. There are, however, a few rules you should apply to make your choice a bit easier.

The Principles of Food and Wine Pairing?

Before you get yourself freaked out about what to choose by stating that "I'm not an expert", start with a simple question to narrow the playing field:

Are choosing the wine to go with the dish or the dish to go with the wine or are you looking for a bottle to take to a dinner party?

Once you've worked that part out the rest is easy.

Looking for a wine to take wine to a dinner party?

Here's where vanity and ego often gets in the way. Some people don't want to be seen to just spend a fiver on a cheap bottle of plonk and some people want to show off by bringing a hugely expensive or old vintage bottle with them. While there is a place at a dinner party for both it may not be the best choice for the occasion. The idea for taking a bottle to a dinner party is that it may be drank at the event and therefore needs to fit in. Bringing a bottle for you host as a gift for another time is a completely different kettle of fish.

Take these things into account when choosing your dinner party wine:

Season and Weather: 

If it's summer then your choice should lighter, a rose or a light refreshing white maybe. If it's snowing and -20 outside something heavier and warming will be needed - a Shiraz maybe. If it's super hot you may want to think about bringing fizz which will have a cooling effect.

Occasion:

If it's just a get together you could experiment with a new wine or even a cocktail mix. Fizz is ALWAYS a good idea - but then I'm female and fizz is a girl's best friend! If it's granny's 80th birthday you may want to keep it more traditional and go for a middle of the road red such as a Merlot. Don't forget the flowers though, grannies always love flowers!

Location:

If it's at the beach you want, again, to keep it light. Heavy reds in hot weather can accentuate the heat. Pinot Noir dies in the heat, save that one for a cooler time. Try a Sauvignon Blanc or pinot grigio - both light, refreshing and easy to drink

People:

If you don't know who's going you'll want to stay in the middle of the road wine wise. Merlot is great as is Valpolicella for an easy drinking, food friendly, middle of the road red. Chardonnay (not the heavy oaky type) and Chenin Blanc are always safe bets for whites.

Avoid holiday wines:

A wine that you taste on holiday often tastes completely different when you get it home. Leave the pineapple wine for another occasion and design a menu around it for more fun.

Budget:

May or may not be a factor for you. Just know that many palates won't appreciate the delicate nuances of really expensive labels so don't waste your money (unless you intend to gift the wine). Keep your spend relative and save the expensive stuff for a special occasion.

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

If you have a great bottle or bottles that you want to drink, create a menu around it. It's easy to do but you must know the wine, it's flavours and characteristics before you do. Try your wine before building your menu.

Take these things into account when choosing the Food to go with the Wine:

Opposites attract: 

Sweetness wine and saltiness in food - Sweet and Sour

High Acidity:

If your wine has high acidity you may want to make a dish with equal acidity Don't use too much salt in your dishes, it highlights the acidity

High Tannin:

If you have a wine that has high tannin then try a fatty protein (duck for example) to counter balance it. Keep sauces condensed and well cooked off, too much alcohol highlights the tannin

Heavy wine:

The heavier the wine, the heavier the dish can be. Think components - wild boar is a heavy meat that will stand up to a heavy wine Heavy wines are the perfect partners for meat, roasted or in stews. Use a low tannin wine with light white proteins

Delicate wine:

Choose your cooking method well, delicate food needs delicate cooking. Delicate wine = delicate and simple food Deep fried food can kill a delicate wine's bouquet

Match flavours:

Try to match the flavours in the wine with the flavours in the dishes Smoky foods pair really well with oaky wines Dark berry flavours in the wine, make a sauce with berries in

Food and Wine 101

Choosing the Wine to go with the Food:

It's difficult to find just one wine that pairs with a whole dinner party, it can be done but for the most part you should be looking at 2-3 different wines. It's pretty easy to reverse the logic written above.

Here's some pointers:

Cooking Method:

Can dictate what wine you choose Steaming, poaching, stir-frying = lighter wines Braising, roasting, frying - heavier wines

Dish Make up:

Dish make up can alter what you think will work Weight, intensity, texture, region, ingredients all need to be taken into account Try to find a couple of things to focus on that the wine you choose will pair well with 

Temperature:

The wine's temperature can alter it's profile so decide how you want to drink it Not all wine should be drunk at textbook temperatures

Sauce, Rub, Marinade:

It's one thing to figure out what the main ingredient of the dish is but it's another thing if the sauce, rub or marinade out shines it. Be careful with spicy marinades, spice needs either spicy reds (Shiraz, Malbec) or fruity whites (Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling) to counteract it. Creamy sauces need creamy wines - full bodied whites 

Balance:

Sweetness in the food needs to be balanced with sweetness in the wine or one will outshine the other.

White Wine with Fish?

Doesn't have to be so. Light wines and fruity wines pair really well with fish, especially oily fish Just be careful with salt and red wine Be careful with oaked wines and salmon or tuna

Don't be afraid:

There's nothing wrong with drinking fizz (especially vintage fizz) with a main course Fizz cuts through the mouth coating effects of eggs Sherries pair really well with Japanese food Sherry (a sweet one) also cuts through the mouth numbing effects of ice cream Try a lightly chilled Pinot Noir with your Chinese next time

Food and Wine 101

As much as I can give pointers on what to do, like I said, there's some basic chemistry you need to be careful of.

Here's a few difficulties with food and wine:

Salt and high tannin - makes food taste saltier Sweet foods with dry wines - wine will taste tart Astringent things - vinegar in salad dressings can make a wine taste astringent Oily, palate altering foods - peanuts, they're a toughie! Heat - wasabi, horseradish, mustard, chilli- will make most red wines seem tannic, try sweeter whites Unami - the newest sense - asparagus, artichoke, tomato, spinach - notoriously hard to pair with. Sauvignon Blanc seems to do ok. Cheese - hard cheese, creamy cheese, blue cheese, rind cheese  - It's really hard to find 1 wine for all. Oaky whites work well

 

This just scratches the surface on Food and Wine Pairing, there's tons to tell and tons to learn. I offer to tailor made Food and Wine Pairing workshops to both private and professional clients either virtually (via Skype) or in person - See SERVICES

Please contact me if you have questions or are interested in learning more.

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Pinot Noir Any Time!

Pinot Noir Any Time!

Pinot Noir. It is, without doubt, my absolute favourite grape variety.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL wines but Pinots have a special place in my heart.

My love might have something to do with time spent grape picking in Burgundy, sleeping in the vigneron’s barn after eating a hearty meal prepared by Madame vigneron accompanied, of course, with plenty of their product.
My knees still hurt at the thought of the vendage but my heart will never forget the wine.

 


Pinot's have many faces depending on where it originates and can therefore prove to be disappointing to some searching for their definition of Pinot Noir.

A notoriously difficult grape variety to grow, the Pinot Noir has very delicate, thin skin that can be succeptible to frost, wind, rain, hail and any other harsh environmets.
It's ironic though that the Pinot thrives in cooler climates rather than warmer climates and sun scorched areas. So to say that the perfect set of ingredients, climate wise, have to be achieved to produce the best grapes and ultimately vintages, is an understatement.
Unlike other hardier grape varieties it often takes just one hail storm to ruin the whole crop leaving little or no vintage at all.

Depending on where the wines originate will also depend on how your Pinot is going to taste.
Typical flavours and aromas of Pinot Noir range from black and red cherries, raspberries, strawberries, roses, currants, vanilla and a whole host of descriptors such as stinky barnyard and mushroom.
The wine is almost always light red in colour with high acidity and low tannins which makes it appealing to those looking for a lighter wine to drink.

However - not all Pinots are the same!

Pinot Noir's home is Burgundy where classic Pinots command extortionate prices and are sought after world wide. It's here that the difference between your bog standard Pinot and Grand Cru Pinot's start.
Basically it all depends on where it's grown - how much sun it gets, what soil type it's grown in etc. I'm talking about terroir.
In Burgundy the growers believe that terroir gives the wine the personality of where it comes from, it's own identity, and there are none more complex personalities than in Burgundy.
Parcels of the best prime vineyard land renowned for producing the greatest Pinot Noirs are coveted and IF sold their prices are rarely disclosed.
Hence, the some of worlds best wine comes from an area 10,000 km. sq and with hugely diverse geography. Small in comparison to other large wine producing areas.

Pinot Noir is also successfully grown in other countries around the world - Chile, USA, New Zealand, Australia to name a few.
Pinot's from these countries have their own personalities tending to be bigger, richer, fruitier and fruitier than their French counterparts - very likeable by all who drink them!

 


This year for Christmas I dove into my cellar and pulled out a few bottles that I thought might be interesting to try with whatever we were eating.
The summary is testimony that not all Pinot Noirs are the same. They were all from Burgundy but all different, one light and easy to drink, another heavy and almost too tannic, quite different yet all with their own personalities.

Here’s a summary of what I chose, where I got them from, what I ate with them and what they tasted like in both wine-speak and for you wine beginners, non-wine speak.

I bought the three wines from Vinatis where I buy a lot of wine.
I am not affiliated with them in any way but they do have some good prices and deliver to my door in 24 – 48 hours, which is pretty good for rural France!

 

First up:

2010 Domaine Machard de Gramont Chorey-Les-Beaune
Grand Vin de Bourgogne
€11 Vinatis

I bought this Pinot a couple of years ago as Chorey Les Beaune is where I grape picked (poor knees!) so it was more for sentimental reasons rather than taste that I bought it and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

I had this with an aperitif with a mélange of things to eat:

Apple and walnut baked Brie
Homemade black olive Tapenade – with plenty of garlic
Chunks of baked Chorizo Sausage
Dried Mountain Ham
and whatever else was kicking around

Wine-Speak – Light and opaque cherry red in colour with fast legs.
Incredibly fragrant on the nose with red fruits, raspberry and red cherries.
Slight oak, vanilla with a very slight hint of earthiness.
Fruit disappeared quickly.

In the mouth it was hot – for a Pinot.
Good fruit on entry, smooth, lightweight with slight tannin and with a short, but hot, finish.

In short – balanced apart from the heat.

Non Wine-Speak – This wine was awesome!
It’s a classic light Pinot Noir taste that was great with the food but would be equally as good without.
It’s an easy drinking wine for those looking to get started with Burgundy reds.

Hardly a classic Pinot pairing to say the least but it all worked really well and my only complaint was that I didn’t have a second bottle open.

 


 

Next up:

2007 Lupé Cholet Domaine du Château Gris
Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Fourniers
€28 Vinatis

I had this little tinker with my Christmas lunch but rather than go for the classic turkey we had Roast Pork Loin and crackling with a sausage and chestnut stuffing and all the trimmings.
Oh my goodness it totally worked and, yes I did have a second bottle open!

Wine-Speak – Dark cherry red colour from rim all the way to the core. It looked elegant!
On the nose it fragrant and pretty with ripe dark red fruits of cherries and blackberries.
More than a touch of established vanilla with the telltale barnyard nuances.
On the palate it was smooth, with balanced tannin and acidity.
Fruit came through from start to finish leaving you wanting more.
A smooth and elegant length so typical of a great Pinot.

Non Wine-Speak – A fantastic example of Aloxe-Corton! If you can get it, try it.
It’s fruity without being over the top and leaves a great taste in your mouth at the end.
Price point doesn’t break the bank and it’s incredible with or without food.
You won’t be disappointed with this.

 


 

Finally!

2006 Domaine Michel Caillot
Beaune Les Avaux 1er Cru
€16 Vinatis


I bought a case of this a few years ago and have been trying it at regular intervals since. It hasn’t changed much and I doubt it will.

We had this little guy with Christmas dinner leftovers, which were just as good as the day before.

Wine-Speak – Dark! Dark black cherry rim to almost inky core. 
It looks full-bodied.
On the nose, dark unripe fruits of black cherry and blackberry.
A very slight touch of coffee and licorice.
Earthy but with a grainy, gravelly minerality.
Palate – dark unripe fruit immediately followed by a quick bitter finish – almost coffee like.
Medium tannin lingers for a long time.

In short – not for me!
It was a darker, heavier Pinot but with bitterness that makes it almost unlikeable.
Funny enough though, it worked with the leftovers especially since I had shredded and pan-fried the Brussels sprouts with some pancetta, a good match despite the aftertaste, which one got used to.

Non Wine-Speak – Ok, not bad but think there’s better out there at the same price point.
It may be a bit big for Pinot beginners or those who prefer a lighter wine.
It’s a full-bodied Pinot but the bitterness could turn you off 

 

Pinot Noir Any Time! 
Despite the fact that they all taste different, to me, they are still some of the most easy drinking wines out there...if you can afford them!

"It’s a hard grape to grow…thin skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention…it can grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who takes time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”

Quote from the movie Sideways

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Tannat/Madiran

Madiran Wine

When we moved to the Pyrenees 7 years ago I had little knowledge about the wines of Southwest France other than those from Jurançon and Cahors.
SW France wines simply weren't out there to be seen, most probably because they weren’t made in large volumes, a lot of it was consumed locally and their labelling was terrible.

High on my list of things to do when I arrived was to go and check out some of the wine areas and get to know the wines.
I was, after all, living here and going to be drinking them.

I started with Madiran, one of the closest wine regions to my new home Chez Passet.
I had sourced out some places on the internet to check out and 2 of the more renowned were: Domaine Berthoumieu and Chateau Montus.

 

A 45min drive took us north on a drizzly overcast March morning past the town of Tarbes and into farming country where we found the small village of Madiran.
A somewhat non-descript village surrounded by fields and vinyards with one road passing through the centre of a few non-descript houses and a church (of course!).
We had thought that Madiran was the centre of the "Madiran" Wine region, however it wasn't, it just seemed to be a village of that name which was a shame as we really couldn't find a sense of where the region actually started and stopped.

Used to looking at wine regions and wineries across the U.S. and Canada we were looking for some form of signage and direction but there was nada, nothing.
We guessed they did things a bit different here!
We did see a wine information sign but when we went to where it pointed the door was locked so we decided to carry on and try to find our first vineyard, Domaine Berthoumieu.

With the absence of any signs we went to a nearby restaurant and asked a lady setting up tables for directions. Her response as she turned and walked away, was that she didn't know.
There was no, “try here they might know”, no help at all.
Ah the French way, they definitely did things differently here…..so helpful!


Luckily we had a Sat. Nav. so we programmed in the address and up a narrow lane we went on our way.
15 minutes of very narrow, winding lanes and not a lot of vines later we were instructed to “turn here”.
“Where? There’s no turning.” I said
Indeed there was a very well camouflaged turning with an equally camouflaged sign to Berthoumieu attached to a tree.
Finally, we had arrived.
Where we were I had no idea.

Montus

The sign pointed to a farm gate that was open and next to which stood a sign for the vineyard so we drove in, parked the car and went off in search of the tasting room.

We hadn’t called ahead and made an appointment as in North America you don’t normally have to.
There was no one around so I sent my husband Tim off in search of life while I made friends with the friendly guard dog. 

A few minutes later Tim came out followed by Didier Barre, the owner and wine maker at Berthoumieu.
We asked in our best, bad French if it was possible to taste and were rewarded, for once, with a smile and “of course”.

We spent the next hour with Mr. Barre tasting his wines in the smallest tasting room I have ever been in, 1 small round table and 3 chairs.  
I tasted, spat and tasted again and again.
Tim basically got hammered and enjoyed everything he tasted!

My French (at the time) was poor, but my wine and restaurant French were fluent so I had no problem conversing with Mr. Barre who was clearly delighted that I knew what I was talking about and was asking informed questions.

Berthoumieu is only a small producer in terms of quantity but, like many small wine makers, he values traditional family wine making techniques and is passionate about his wine and the land that the grapes grow on.
His wines, therefore, are very traditional and are perfect partner for regional dishes such as Confit de Canard or Cassoulet.


Madiran reds are made with the Tannat grape (60%) with additional grape varieties including Cab. Sav. and Cab. Franc being used to make up the blend if the wine maker wants to.
Berthoumieu makes nearly all of his Madiran reds with a high percentage of Tannat. (Whites from this region cannot be called Maridan but must be called Pacherinc du Vic Bilh)
Berthoumieu's wines are what I would consider to be in an “old world style” meaning they take time to soften and become approachable but once softened the layers of flavour in the wine define the terroir and passion that has gone into making it.

I asked if the year was going to be a good vintage.
The question was met with a typical Gallic shrug, a smirk and an absolute “every year is a good year here”.

Enough said, lesson over.
Wine is very simple for these producers, they are from a small farming area without huge financial input for modern day equipment or technology but they have pride and passion.
It's as if you are drinking history which in a way is refreshing and there’s nothing at all wrong with the wine they make.

I ended up leaving Berthoumieu with a large quantity of wine (funny how that happens).
A lot of the wine is still in my cellar today, it tastes a bit better now than it did then which is saying something because it was awesome when I bought it!

Chateau Bouscasse

We never did get to go to Chateau Montus that day, it was closed but we have since been a few times and it is very different from Berthoumieu.

Chateau Montus is owned by Alain Brumont and his family which is a larger company with a few different vineyards around the Madiran region.
They have a range of wines from every day cheap n’ cheerfuls (well relatively) to the high end Chateau Bouscasse and Chateau Montus which I have to say are both fantastic wines and in every way (except grape varieties) comparable to a great Bordeaux.
They have a fantastic tasting room at Chateau Bouscasse and offer cellar tours and tastings if you book in advance.
They also offer a tour and dining option if you have enough people and book in advance which from experience was incredible. The tour was really informative and the food was exceptional, especially since it was made from local produce and paired with incredible Brumont wines 

Alain Brumont is an "iconic" winemaker in Madiran.
Brumont embraces modern wine making techniques along side traditional techniques in his wine making and is credited industry-wide for being a visionary in Madiran.
The results are that his wines are made for every palate.
His old world styles are earthy and tough but refined and approachable and the wines made with newer techniques show fruit that used to be buried behind tannins for years.

If you get a chance to go to either vineyard you should go.
Better still, go to both and see the difference.
Both are free to taste and you can purchase wines onsite.
Both producers are exporting to the UK and limited outlets in North America.

All in all, Madiran is a pretty neat little wine region to visit.
The wines are awesome, varied and terroir driven which makes them unique.
I still didn't figure out where the centre of the region was but from subsequent visits i'll happily say that the signage has improved.

Madiran still has a lot of undeveloped farmlandvand I get the feeling that with so many advances in technology we are going to see a new side to an old wine soon.
I don’t think that traditionalists need to fret, there will always be an old school producer tucked away in them there hills.

Chateau Bouscasse

Chateau Montus

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Get the Floc out!

Get the Floc out!

Getting the "Floc" out is a common occurrence in the South West of France.
I get the "Floc" out often although I'm pretty sure most French don't snigger like kids when they do, the joke just doesn't seem to grow old with me.
I know, it doesn't take much.

If you're wondering what I'm prattling on about, I'm talking about one of the regional drinks here in SW France, the little known Floc de Gascogne.
 

Why am I writing about it?
Because it's one of those drinks that needs to be talked about and shared.
It's an incredible drink and one which is, sadly, undersold and under exported for many reasons.

One of the reasons is that it's a fortified wine and the demand for fortified wines around the world outside or port or sherry, just isn't there.
Don't be put off by the "fortified" bit, I'll explain that part, just be sure that this drink is awesome!

Every region of France has it's own version of a fortified wine (also called vin de liqueur or mistelle) which is drunk as an aperitif or as a dessert accompaniment.

Cognac has Pineau de Charentes, the Rhône has Rinquinquin, there's Cartagene from the Languedoc and Macvin from the Jura just to name a few.

Mostly though "Floc" is drunk before dinner as an aperitif, often accompanied with tasty treats local to the area and often produced or reared locally. 

"Floc" comes in white, red and rose styles meaning they've got the seasonal changes covered so you can drink it year round - bonus!

Get the Floc out!

So, what is it?

Floc de Gascogne is a bi-product of the Armagnac (brandy) industry here in SW France.
It is (simply put) a base of grape juice to which Armagnac has been added.
Don't be fooled, you hardly taste the Armagnac.

The recipe has been around since the 16th century and it's name is as old as the local language, Occitan, which is still spoken by some older generations.
"Floc" means bouquet of flowers in Occitan and when you smell it that is exactly the aroma you smell.

 

Here's the technical description: 

Just prior to the completion of fermentation, the grape must (juice) is fortified with brandy until the solution reaches an alcohol level of 16%–22%.
The appellation (a set of strict controls to maintain authenticity) states that  there must be 2/3 grape juice and 1/3 brandy both of which must come from the same vineyard.
The resulting wine is left with a high level of residual sugar because most strains of yeast cannot reproduce at such a high alcohol level.
After blending, the Floc is kept for 10 months in the cellar of the producer and must be approved by a committee of experts before it can be sold under the appellation Floc de Gascogne.

Get the Floc out!

Visit any traditional family home in SW France and you most likely will be offered a chilled glass of Floc de Gascogne as an aperitif.
It's a bit of a ritual and there's rarely a fridge without a bottle in it.

The ritual part is typical of the people of the SW who are incredibly proud of their lands and the produce that has been grown or reared on it for centuries.
Not only will a chilled glass of "Floc" be proudly presented but there will also be offerings of local dried ham, nuts, olives and cheese all of which, unsurprisingly, pair incredibly well with it. 

In fact the "Floc" is transformed by the arrival of food, it becomes whole, the flavors rounded and the whole experience turns into a journey of taste sensations.
 

Think almond, jasmine, roses, honey and black fruit from the "Floc" then add to it salty ham or dry goat cheese or juicy ripe melon and you're looking at what I can only describe as complete foodie fulfillment.
"Floc" on it's own is....ok, but "Floc" with food, especially the right (meaning local) food is a different beast.

So, if you're looking for something a bit different that will blow the socks off your guests at a dinner party Get the Floc Out and pair it with some simple and delicious produce.
Believe me, you won't look back. 

No joke, try it you might even like it.

 

A bottle will cost between €7-15 in France and is readily available in many large supermarkets.
I added a couple of links on the right to Floc de Gascogne on Amazon UK where I know you can get it but you will probably have to order it through other wine stores.

"Floc" should be drunk within a year after the production.
Once a bottle is opened, it should be stored for up to three months in the refrigerator - but it won't last that long!

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Beaujolais or Bust

The Sommelier Chef - Beaujolais or Bust

There was a time when Beaujolais Nouveau was the in thing in the wine world.
Hordes of people raced to France from various countries in an attempt to be one of the first to get the new release, which takes place at midnight on the third Thursday in November every year.

Celebratory "Nouveau" parties would take place in towns and cities around the globe as soon as the wine had arrived. Hosts cracking open the bottle as soon as the box had arrived, eating moules and beef bourguignon and slurping down many, many glasses of the young wine. I think I remember being at some of them!

Beaujolais Nouveau then became un-vogue, out of fashion, sent to the back of the store cupboard and other "in wines" took its place.
But like all things fashionable, if you wait long enough it will one day be popular again and true to form there has been resurgence in its popularity, mostly among the younger crowd keen for another reason to have a party.

Today there is no race across Europe with Nouveau being shipped around the world ahead of the release date just in time for sale. In fact this years release saw a huge portion of Nouveau go to Asia where amongst other things, it was poured into baths in Japan.

The Sommelier Chef - Beaujolais or Bust

So what is it and why don't people like it?

Well, Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine made in Burgundy, France from the Gamay grape.
It is made in a slightly different way to most wines with the grapes being left whole during fermentation rather than crushed in a method called Carbonic Maceration.

The result of this type of fermentation is a lighter style in terms of both colour and weight as no skins are crushed resulting in a lighter juice with little tannin, suitable for younger palates.

Nouveau literally means “new” in French and like any wine that has just been harvested it is very, very young.
There is no complexity and to be honest it is akin to alcoholic fruit juice, which is fine if you know what you are getting.

I think that a lot of consumers thought they were getting something different when they bought the bottle, especially with Nouveau’s Burgundian roots, only to be disappointed when they drank it.
Possibly this was a result of the huge marketing push centered around Nouveau at the time.

Beaujolais Nouveau bottles are easily recognized with by their brightly coloured “arty” labels and the contents of the bottle bright red, young, fruity, acidic and to some wine drinkers, bloody awful!

It has its place; no one buys Nouveau for the cellar, it's meant to be drunk now, today, with a good beef stew, and as a celebration of this years harvest.
If you over think Nouveau you're thinking too much.
Nouveau is a simple soul, what you see is what you get.

Beaujolais Nouveau, however, is not at all typical of other Beaujolais wines that have, unfortunately, been tarred with the same brush resulting in lost popularity.
Nouveau is to Beaujolais wines what a Mini is to a Mercedes, great but not at all the same product.

Beaujolais wine is made from the same grapes and using the same process as Nouveau, it just has a longer and sometimes different aging process.

Real Beaujolais Red is still acidic and a lighter style but with layers and complexity sometimes on par with it's more expensive and sought after Burgundian cousin Pinot Noir.

It's a shame that these beautiful Beaujolais wines have fallen into the same catagory as it's younger Nouveau counterparts, definitely a result of fantastic marketing by wine companies that back fired on other serious Beaujolais producers.

Beaujolais has had a hard time climbing out from the bottom of the barrel but it is still afloat and their wines are just as good, if not better, as ever they were.

There are 3 appelations of Beaujolais:

Beaujolais AOC – basic Beaujolais with a majority of wines being sold as Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Villages – accounting for ¼ of Beaujolais wine production the wines come from the north of the region and from a collection of 39 villages. Some Nouveau produced but not much. Stricter controls than for regular Beaujolais AOC

Cru Beaujolais – highest classification in Beaujolais. No Nouveau production allowed. There are 10 crus (villages) and which are where the best reputed Beaujolais come from - Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Réginé, Saint Amour

Each of the crus have their own unique characteristics, some more age worthy than others, some unfiltered and full-bodied, some flowery and delicate, there are lots to choose from but look at the labels and if one of the “crus” is noted then try it.

So, if you have ever had the privilege of Nouveau and the headache to go with it, try some of the other Beaujolais wines, they are something to behold and there are loads to choose from.

To help you choose which cru might be best for you, here’s a link to some Wiki information that offers some interesting information on both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaujolais

 

 

Drink This: 

Moulin à Vent Beaujolais - try this one!

Moulin a Vent
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Merlot Misunderstood

Merlot Misunderstood

The other day I was talking to a colleague in the wine trade and the subject of "easy drinking" wines came up.
Specifically we were talking about wines that appealed to all palates, especially the beginner wine drinker.

Almost at the same time we both used a Merlot from the Languedoc in France as our example, although my use of it was a positive one and his not-so-much.
I have to give the person their dues as we were in an area not known for it's delicate and subtle wines.
We were in Madiran, where reds are big, bold and tannic and are what I call “hairy wines”. So I think a bit of bias had crept in…or had it?

Merlot has a bit of a poor reputation, a lack of respect if you will. 
Anyone who has seen the movie "Sideways" will remember the famous scene where drinking Merlot was categorically dismissed as something never ever to be drunk.
It was this scene that brought the modern spotlight and a bit of stigma onto Merlot.

I find it amusing that Merlot is dismissed as a "simple" wine when it's the prominent grape variety in world renowned and sought after wines from Saint Émilion and Pomerol. 

Merlot Misunderstood

Merlot is the predominant grape variety used in Pomerol.

To me it's not the grape variety but the style in which the wine is made that makes some drinkers run for the hills.
My colleague who scoffed at the Languedoc version basically meant that the Merlot produced there was made with the sole intention of becoming an easy to drink, middle-of-the-road beginner wine, appealing to the masses and sold by the box load. 

He was right, and it is, but it's incredibly drinkable, pairs easily with most foods and appeals to all palates.
A good result in my book, what's not to like about that?

Same grape but completely different wines depending on how it's made - it's the story we are seeing all around the world.

Most people with a bit of wine knowledge know that New World versus Old World wine making techniques are the reason for this. 
They are very different and make two very different wines and it's that which is confusing to those who are unfamiliar.

For those who don't know the difference I'll describe it in layman's terms.

Old World wine making uses old "recipes" and techniques that have been perfected over centuries, and the resulting wine has characteristics renowned for the region it comes from.
Many wines are blended vs single variety and there are often many subtle layers of flavour in the wine that are difficult to find unless you know how to taste and go looking for them.
These wines often can be described as "complex" because of that reason and beginner wine drinkers tend to describe them as too strong or too dry when their palates are overwhelmed by the complexity.

New World wine makes use of new technology during wine making process whether from machinery, chemically or simply using new techniques and theories.
Some of these processes bring out more fruit flavor or enable the wine to be drunk earlier by taking away some of the tannin.
Single variety wines are the darling of New World technology rather than blended.
The results are simple, fruitier, softer structured wines that are easily drinkable and particularly attractive to the novice wine drinker. 

I am completely generalizing here, there's more to it than that but in very basic terms that's the nuts and bolts.

Merlot Misunderstood

Same grapes producing completely different wines depending on the method of vinification used.

Merlot is one grape variety that has become very popular by using New World techniques. 

Ordinarily Merlot from Old World countries needs to be blended to give it structure and backbone and the fruit is lean as it’s typically grown in cooler climate areas where the fruit takes a long time to ripen.
In a bad vintage Merlot needs help to make it shine yet in a good vintage the Merlot grape produces a light, smooth wine with silky tannins.
It’s a middle of the road wine appealing to drinkers who find the stronger, fuller bodied wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo too much to take.

By growing Merlot in hot climates and using New World techniques wine makers have produced a very fruity wine with low tannin.
The structure is not complex and the wine is simple, almost always dependable vintage wise and has become incredibly easy to drink. 

Merlot is made successfully all over the world using NW techniques, most notably in Chile where there are some amazing results at affordable prices.
It is also made in the Languedoc, France by the bucket load, often sold in boxes and is a staple for everyday, easy drinking when you don't want to think about it.
 


So, why is Merlot misunderstood and why the poor reaction from my colleague when mentioning it?

Well I think it's not so much the Merlot grape variety, it's more the fact that it has been mass produced and people drink a lot of it while not really knowing (or caring) what they are drinking.
For the "wine lover"  it's hard to comprehend why people drink it when there are so many better wines available.

Merlot Misunderstood

While these two wines might be made from the same grape variety they are VERY different wines.

There's also a bit of stigma, a bit like the youngest child having to live up to their older siblings achievements.
The "old school" see Merlot as an inferior wine to the bigger, bolder, in-your-face wines although the "old school" are often the first to get excited when a bottle of Pomerol is opened.

Personally, I think it all works and whatever floats your boat wine wise is your own choice. 

There is a place for your bog standard mass produced Merlot, just don’t misunderstand and confuse what it’s purpose is.
It’s a glass of wine, rather like a glass of bog standard beer - does the trick and people love it.

I do think that wine education is key to helping novice wine drinkers move on and try different, more complex wines, whether it's the wine shop, magazines, tv, friends or whatever; I think education is key.

Sure there are other wines out there that are better but to compare a boxed Merlot to a Chateau Cheval Blanc just isn't possible.
Same grape, two totally different wines.

I certainly wouldn't describe Cheval Blanc as an every day drinking wine even though it is predominantly Merlot and I certainly don't have the budget to buy it every day. 
Although if anyone wants to prove me wrong by sending me some to compare I'll gladly accept it.

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