Merlot

Tasted January 9th, 2011

It's been two months since we tasted together as a group at the Bistro Seven Seven.  In December, we held our Holiday Mystery Tasting (blind tasting) at Jacquie and Tyler's home featuring several of the wines previously sampled at our tutored tastings.  We should probably commend the lovely Jacquie for identifying all but one of the wines by grape variety correctly - well done my dear!  

Today we explore the amazing history of Merlot.  Do you consider world's the third most planted grape a primary varietal or a winemaker's secret tool? In California and Washington State, they often bottle perfectly ripened Merlot as a stand-alone varietal whereas in Bordeaux, the grape is considered dominant on the Right-Bank and the perfect complement to the more structured and often tannic Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left side of the Gironde. Merlot is grown throughout the world in countries such as:  Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Italy but today, we will focus on the greatest examples of both the new world and the old - the United States and France.  Since we have two bottles from the US west coast we'll also include one from a little further north: Canada's beautiful Okanogan Valley in BC.   

The new world represents an international style and preference for ripeness and full body whereas the old is the symbol of finesse and delicacy.  The wines sampled are listed below in order tasting:

2005 Chateau Barde-Haute, St. Emilion
2000 Chalk Hill, California
2006 Quails' Gate, British Columbia
2008 Charles Shaw Merlot, California
2006 Chateau La Confession, St. Emilion


In fairness, the first wine tasted, the 2005 Chateau Barde-Haute was still quite young, though we did decant this one early in the afternoon to allow some breathing time.  While the intensity of the Barde-Haute did mellow somewhat, the wine seemed slightly out-of-sorts; another 5-7 years in the cellar we all agreed. Incidentally, I tasted the Haute-Barde the following day, and it was lovely; my favourite of the lot in fact.  Next up, the 2000 Chalk Hill, Estate Bottled Merlot.  Judging by its brick-hue colour, the age of this wine was obvious.  The inital aromas of were of mushroom and fungal characteristic and we agreed that with 10 years under cork, the wine may very well have been shocked by the reintroduction to oxygen.  On the palate however, the Sonoma County example still possessed a good fruit core and over the afternoon developed a really nice flavour profile while still retaining it's earthiness. Our Canadian entry, the 2006 Quails' Gate from British Columbia was lovely and the favourite of several members; thinner in body when compared to the first two but a very nice balance of fruit and acidity.  Having not originated from France or the US, the Quails' Gate was the perceived exception in the lineup today and inadvertently took the focus off what would come next:

The group was unaware of the next wine's identity or that they would be tasting a legend (so to speak) in California's quest for 'world wine domination'.   To spring a bottle of this calibre is a fairly old trick in the wine tasting world and I was sure that someone in the group might recognize the label and spoil the effect.  While we don't taste blind, this one needed to be a surprise to maximize the shock value.  Blaming the humidity in my cellar for the label's absence, I introduced the bottle as 100% Merlot from the Bronco Wine Co., the monopoly that owns and bottles the Charles Shaw line of wines aka."Two Buck Chuck".  So how was it? 'Simple wine' someone said, another: 'there is no aftertaste' while still another: ' I love it!'  Personally, I think the stuff tastes like fruit punch combined with Thrills chewing gum but if it tickles your fancy, all the better for your wallet I suppose.  But the question remains: does a bottle of 'Two Buck Chuck" actually have what it takes to best the other four bottles, each the product of skilled winemaking and tradition?  We shall see...

The last wine in our line up today was the 2006 Chateau La Confession from Saint Emilion.  The colour here was surprising considering the vintage;  2006 Bordeaux is typically noted for producing lighter bodied wines for early consumption but this example was deep purple and shockingly concentrated.  At four years old, the La Confesssion was too young to truly appreciate. Give it another 5 years we agreed, this wine has the stuffing to become something spectacular.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in terms of personal preference. The top three wines are listed below:
  1. 2000 Chalk Hill 
  2. 2006 Quails' Gate
  3. 2008 Charles Shaw 'Two Buck Chuck'
The results were all over the board today with a mix of preferences. The Chalk Hill placed first by its total points accumulated but did not receive the most first place votes - that was the 'Two Buck Chuck'.  The reason the Charles Shaw wine finished third and not higher in the ranking was simply because those who did not prefer this wine, thoroughly detested it! Canada's Quails' Gate was ranked third by almost the entire group though with the sporadic ranking of the other samples, the BC Merlot slid comfortably in to second place.

Thank-you Jim, Gary and Joy for your generous bottle donations!
Next month, we switch to white wine and taste Gew├╝rztraminer. See you then.

Cheers!