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Finding A Merlot True To Style A Challenge In Today’s Market

December 20, 2017

Merlot used to be a top red wine variety, until a certain phrase in a certain movie knocked it out of favor.

Merlots are not hard to find. But finding a good one — that is true to style — has become more difficult. Many producers who focused on merlot 20 years ago have moved on to other things. Much of those merlot grapes end up diluted in blends. And with so much focus on pinot noir and cabernet and interest in new varietals such as tempranillo — merlot has become your parents’ red wine.

When I try a merlot, I look for blueberry or purple fruit flavor, a touch of cocoa and velvety tannins. Merlot owes its popularity to those smooth tannins, earning the moniker “cabernet without the pain.”

Recently, the closest I came to what I remember of merlot is J. Lohr Los Osos Paso Robles Merlot, a brambly wine with blackberry and blueberry notes, a brush of chocolate and vanilla and a hint of spice. $17.

For a time, Washington state tried to make merlot a namesake variety. Fortunately, a lot of grapes do very well there. Boomtown by Dusted Valley Washington State 2015 Merlot shows the rich fruit for which the state is known with character of blackberries, violets and flint with a light finish. $17.

Casillero del Diablo is a great value brand that usually offers spot-on varietal character at a low price. A nice mid-priced merlot, Casillero del Diablo 2016 Chile Merlot, is light-bodied, showing some blueberry and plum character. It’s just slightly tannic and has a peppery finish. $11. 1/2

Merlot goes great with burgers or meatloaf and has a broad appeal.

GRADE: Exceptional , Above average , Good , Below average , Poor DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.