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Merlot: most planted wine grape in France

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I think it is safe to say that many of us would answer cabernet sauvignon or even chardonnay if asked the name of the most planted wine grape in France.

The answer is a cross between cabernet franc and magdeleine noir des charentes: merlot.

Much of it is found in Bordeaux, where it is often blended with cabernet sauvignon, but if you travel to the eastern areas of St Emilion and Pomerol you will find that it dominates.

One of the main reasons for this is that merlot ripens a couple of weeks before cabernet sauvignon and this assures that it can be harvested before the cold winter temperatures arrive, as they do so first in this area.

We all know that freezing causes fruit to burst and that this destroys it.

Merlot grapes are larger than cabernet sauvignon and so their skin to pulp ratio is less. This results in less tannin from the skins and, overall, a softer and earlier maturing wine.

Merlot translates as “little black bird” and some say that this is because of its colour, or because the birds arrive to eat them first as they are ripe before any others.

Let me start by saying that I am going to be all over the place with pricing today. I am doing this as merlot seems to be so popular for day to day enjoyment, but then there is the special occasion that it suits so well.

Our 2017 Bogle Clarksburg Merlot is from an area east of San Francisco that is growing in popularity. At $22.45 (stock #8051) it is a good way to start the week with its rich hues of garnet and enticing aromas of black cherry and vanilla. Then add red cherries, plums and cola to a smooth and silky mouthfeel. American oak adds smoke, cedar and a soft, warm palate. Wine Enthusiast rates it a “best buy”.

The 2017 J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot, from Paso Robles in California is medium-dark in colour with a mature red hue. Varietal aromas of black plum and violet meld with a barrel signature of hazelnut and brown baking spices, while the generous fraction of malbec in the blend accentuates bright fruit tones and contributes a note of hibiscus flower. Firm tannins and lively acidity cascade to a lengthy red-fruit finish. A tasting panel writes: “For the price, this merlot (with a little malbec) wows. It’s ripe and juicy, with aromas and flavours that bring out pretty tones of red and purple flowers. Luscious dark chocolate, vibrant acidity, and a savoury finish keep the mouth hydrated.” $26.55 (Stock #7997).

For Christophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager at Stags’ Leap Winery, the identity of a wine is found through the terroir. Christophe’s career has spanned the industry from sales to winemaking, and his impressive background includes positions at Chateau d’Yquem and Gruaud-Larose as well as projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State. But it was the terroir of Stags’ Leap that drew him to California. His 2016 Stags Leap Winery Merlot is a blend of 86 per cent merlot, 6 per cent petite sirah, 5 per cent malbec, 1 per cent petit verdot and 2 per cent mixed red.

This expressive merlot showcases the ability of Napa Valley to let the grape excel with incredibly pleasurable and complex cherry, cranberry, pomegranate and plum notes. It is lush with a lovely texture. Critic James Suckling awards it 93/100. $64 (Stock #6342).

When Englishman Jonathan Maltus showed up in St. Emilion and said that he wanted to make wine I believe that his neighbours thought that he was out of place, but he has since proved himself admirably. Take for instance his 2015 Chateau Teyssier St Emilion Grand Cru which is a blend of 70 per cent merlot and 30 per cent cabernet franc. It has become one of the most asked for wines from this area. Wine Spectator rates it 91/100 and has this to say: “This has a very friendly, juicy, rounded core of plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit, backed by silky tannins and carrying through the generous finish.”

Robert Parker comments: “It has a sweet red cherry and blueberry-scented bouquet that is lifted nicely by the new oak. The palate is medium-bodied with sweet red and black fruit on the entry. There is a pastille-like purity here, nicely balanced with a smooth and seductive finish. You can really see the wide commercial appeal of this well-crafted Saint Emilion. It will drink earlier than others.” $42.15 (Stock #8319).

La Forge is a small production of wine, 2,000 cases, from a vineyard that Jonathan owns; the wine is made at Teyssier. The 2014 La Forge St. Emilion Grand Cru is a blend of 92 per cent merlot and the rest cabernet franc. Here is what Wine Enthusiast has to say about it: “Ripe and fruity with smooth tannins and generous fruits, this is a concentrated wine that is also stylish. It has plenty of tannins that are so well integrated. The wine is going to be delicious with its acidity and juicy jammy fruit. Drink from 2020.” $58 (Stock #9543).

Chateau la Clemence is one of the last properties in Pomerol, France, where the old foot stomp method is used to crush the grapes

Pomerol and St Emilion are the stars of the “Right Bank” or eastern side of the Dordogne river, and so we will end in Pomerol that is the smallest of all Bordeaux appellations. At six acres we are also at a small vineyard with 2006 Chateau la Clemence that is planted with 85 per cent merlot and 15 per cent cabernet franc. Thanks to the soil, which consists of blue clay, sand and gravel, as well as favourable weather conditions in 2006 that showed a fine quality harvest, we have a lovely pomerol. The grapes were harvested and sorted entirely by hand. This is one of the last properties where the old foot stomp method is used to crush the grapes. Inter-woven notes of red fruits, vanilla and toasted bread crust, as well as intoxicating fruit flavour and that special something that only reveals itself with age. $93.70 (Stock #9597).

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published October 16, 2020 at 7:00 am (Updated October 15, 2020 at 1:38 pm)

Merlot: most planted wine grape in France

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