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St Patrick’s Day, and the rise of merlot

The “lawnmowers” used in organic Veramonte vineyards (Photograph supplied)

As many are about to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, I have decided to feature a grape that would pair happily with an Irish stew.

During much of my time in the wine trade I watched merlot grow rapidly in popularity. In 1990, it held seventh place with overall acreage planted in the world but by 2010 it had risen to second, just behind cabernet sauvignon; positions that they still hold today.

This grape has spread out from the eastern Bordeaux areas of St Emilion and Pomerol to many countries, and I have seen it referred to as a chameleon, as it easily adapts to the terroir in which it is planted.

It ripens early, and as the cold winter winds arrive first from the east in France, it can be harvested before frost damage can occur. The name is derived from a small black bird (merlot) that loves to peck away at this deliciously ripened fruit.

As merlot grapes are considerably larger than cabernet sauvignon their pulp-to-skin ratio is higher, and this in turn makes for a wine that can be enjoyed earlier in its life as it tends to be softer.

It can be a great “Monday to Thursday night wine” and, accordingly, we have many priced in their teens – Barefoot, Gallo, Blackstone, Dark Horse and more. Here are details on three.

Veramonte is one of Chile's most prestigious estate vineyards. Situated in Casablanca Valley, it sits within its own little valley, surrounded by mountains, and has a variety of microclimates. Their Casablanca Merlotis a gorgeous, dense, aromatic, and beautiful expression of cool climate merlot.

It is an organic wine with intense aromas of blackberries, plums and blueberries that are mingled with subtle hints of cedar and spice.

Fresh red berry fruit flavours are complemented with subtle, elegant oak character, leading to a long persistent finish. Casablanca, cooled by the snow-capped Andes, has proven to be one of the world's premiere terroirs for merlot. Our 2018 Veramonte Merlot costs $19.50 (Stock #6194).

The 2020 Alamos Merlot presents a dark violet colour with reddish tones. The nose is full of ripe plum and cherry aromas with light notes of chocolate and toast. The mouth feel is soft and gentle with excellent texture, showing jammy red fruit flavours and finishing with supple tannins and vibrant acidity. It is produced in Argentina by the Catena family who create this range of wines from their younger vines that have not yet reached the state of maturity to become Catena. The whole collection is so reliable and easy to enjoy. $17.65 (Stock #6160).

Our 2020 Dark Horse Merlot is a rich and robust dark red wine with a fruit-forward character. This California wine features bold, jammy fruit notes of plum and blackberry along with vanilla and toasted oak for a well-rounded taste. Perfect for drinking on its own or serving with many foods, this highly versatile wine offers a smooth, lingering finish. It was awarded 90 points from The Tasting Panel Magazine and delivers exceptional quality for such a reasonable price. $19.40 (Stock #6866).

Let’s say that it is now Friday evening, and you want to notch it up a bit and spend $27. Now you can purchase the 2019 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot from Paso Robles. Varietal aromas of black plum and violet meld with the light barrel signature of baking spices and toasted pastry.

A generous fraction of malbec in the blend accentuates bright fruit tones and contributes notes of pomegranate and hibiscus flower. This wine is lively and bright on the palate and cascades to a lengthy, red-fruit finish.

It is named after the slightly heavier Los Osos series soils in Paso Robles, which have proven to be the perfect medium for growing lush, flavourful merlot. This wine has earned the Certified California Sustainable seal. It garnered 92 points from Tasting Panel and 90 from Decanter magazine. (Stock # 7997).

Imagine that we are now past the unfortunate 15th – for Julius Caesar anyway – and it is St Patrick’s Day and you have made a fine Irish stew. We suggest 2018 Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), Les Légendes “R” Saint-Emilion that is a harmonious blend of merlot and cabernet franc.

It exhibits a deep ruby-red colour with superb brightness. The intense, complex nose, dominated by jammy notes of red fruit such as strawberry and Morello cherry is evolving with subtle oaky aromas.

After a persistent attack on the palate, the wine develops with noticeable yet well-integrated tannins, making way for a fresh, flavourful finish. Developed by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). $38 (Stock #9501).

I will not suggest their 100-point 2015 Chateau Lafite Rothschild as it only contains nine per cent merlot, the rest being cabernet sauvignon.

However, if you wish to have any, I know that Discovery Wines has it in stock. The stock number is 7769 and the price, $1,485.

Back to planet Earth and a trip to Napa Valley for a bottle of 2018 Stags’ Leap Winery Merlot. Established in 1893, this is one of the oldest wine estates within the acclaimed Stags Leap District, producing wines expressive of its unique terroir.

With an enduring winemaking philosophy that honours traditional techniques while embracing modern capabilities, and by using the finest grapes from their own 80-acre vineyard and from quality-focused growers, Stags’ Leap wines embody a natural balance, exhibiting both intensity and finesse.

James Suckling scores this vintage 93/100 and writes, “A medium-bodied red with chocolate, hazelnut, and berry character. Medium to full body, round tannins and a juicy finish. Nicely put together.”

Canadian critic Natalie MacLean notches it up to 94 points and opines, “Still loving this lush and full-bodied merlot from Stags' Leap Winery. The 2018 vintage reminds me of chocolate-covered cherries with rich dark berry, spiced plum and nutty flavours on the palate with bright acidity to match.

“Tannins are fine and rounded. Merlot food pairings: Brazilian-style flank steak with chimichurri sauce, rack of BBQ ribs, veal Porterhouse, grilled lamb, Tandoori-flavoured dishes.” I hope she will not be offended if I sneak in Irish stew. $64(Stock #6342).

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd written by Michael Robinson. He can be contacted at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm

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Published March 10, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated March 09, 2023 at 3:55 pm)

St Patrick’s Day, and the rise of merlot

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