Merlot re-cap: why should we drink Merlot?

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Let’s take Merlot to the party. Whether it is a cast of thousands or just a party of two, Merlot has so much to offer. Let’s begin with a party. #MerlotMe brought us a renewed perspective on the grape. The wine is present yet clearly unobtrusive. Partakers belly up to the bar and say, “Pour me a red and fill-er-up.” In this case, they want a smooth red so that can back to the party. The 2011 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Merlot is one of the industry’s best for these occasions. As an affordable super-premium, the wine fulfills all the highpoints. Easy-to-drink, upscale and super food-friendly, I’ll have a full glass please.

How about for a party of two? Is there a perfect wine, now but I have one that is a no-brainer. Duckhorn Vineyards, one of the highest profiled ultra-premium producers of Merlot, has issued a super 2012 Napa Merlot. Richly layered and succulent, this one takes the varietal to another level. For cozier soirées, this top-of-the-line choice will please neophytes and sophisticates. The former will enjoy the wine that they may have recognized and latter will simply approve the selection.

Merlot grows well in many places of the wine world. On the Right-Bank of Bordeaux, in eastern Washington State, in many spots of the Napa Valley as well as in many other places, merlot takes its place as “The Wine” and while those special viticultural areas take care of the well-heeled crowd, there are even more places doing an excellent job of grown the varietal for everyday enjoyment. Merlot can supply wine drinkers with plenty of fine-drinking wines for a wide variety of occasions. So why do we drink merlot? We drink merlot because they are one of the most dependable reds on the planet.

Tips to make wine ratings work for you

magazines290 points. 92 points. 88 points.

Scores, ratings, critic’s reviews, whatever you want to call them, they can be confusing. And controversial. There are those who live and die by the 100 point scale, refusing to consider a wine not scored over 90 points by their favorite critic. Others disapprove, believing scores have led to a conformity in wines as producers strive to earn scores that will sell, rather than produce a wine of character. This is true; if one crafts a wine in order to achieve a high score from a specific critic, that hurts the integrity of the wine and the scoring system. Wine should have a sense of place, a sense of varietal and preferably, a team dedicated to showing the best of those two features.

That said, scores and ratings should not completely be overhauled. There are a number of critics out there (we use 13 different critics/publications on Wine.com) and each has their own approach.

To really get the most of ratings, it’s helpful to learn a bit about the publication or critic that reviewed it. If you try a wine that is rated 94 points and don’t like it, look at who the review came from. While you don’t need to memorize every critic’s biography, learning who has similar tastes certainly helps finding wines fit for you. A few tips to help:

-READ the review. Scores are not just a number; there is an explanation behind that number with much more importance than the number itself. Look for terms that speak to you. I love Rhone wines, but if a 94 point Rhone mentions any term that refers to “barnyard,” I avoid it. You may know you like supple tannins, or prefer tart fruit over ripe fruit – look for these terms in the tasting notes.

- If you try a wine a love it, look it up (on our site or others) to see who may have given it a score, if any. If you see a score from say, Stephen Tanzer, take note that Tanzer (and his colleagues) may be similar to your palate preferences in that particular wine category.

- Exploring wine takes practice, and if you want to use ratings in helping you explore, that takes some practice too. You’ll hit a few ugly ducklings before you learn which wines are your swans.

As always, we try to provide you the most information possible at Wine.com so you can find the perfect wine for you! Happy shopping :)

Merlot: The “M” Wine

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Don’t look at me like that! Just because there is a big “M” on my chest does not mean that I am bad. I wanted to be pure and chaste and loved from afar, but you brought me to too many parties and there I was on a table. foils cut and uncorked. The servers poured me into big goblets and everyone drank me like I was nothing. Wineries through the decades planted me in low quality, high yielding vineyards just so they could make money of my vines. Can you imagine that? My daddy, Cabernet Franc, and my mother, Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, would never have approved. Or would they? Unfortunately it worked; everyone drank me like water and tossed the empties into the recycle bins.

There are over 600,000 acres of Merlot planted in the world. Most of it in France, a great deal in Italy, some in the United States, Australia, Chile and Argentina – I suppose there are Merlot plantings everywhere. Merlot is an important varietal. The grape provides plenty of soft, succulent red wine  that gives winemakers blending options to make their wines better. On the Left Bank of Bordeaux, a little bit of Merlot goes a long way and on the Right Bank, it is king (especially in Pomerol). Yes, I am proud to be Merlot.

October is Merlot month, and in that spirit I am tasting examples from all over the world. Follow the hashtag, #merlotme, on Twitter, and learn more about the excitement that is now surrounding the varietal. It is time to fill your shopping cart with Merlot, the “M” wine! Three of my favorites are: the 2012 Duckhorn Napa Valley, the 2011 Rodney Strong and the 2010 Twomey by Silver Oak. Now please look at me square in the eyes, I am ready to serve you. Your relationship with me may never be the same again.

From Burgundy with love: Appellation Bourgogne

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To most lonely and dedicated wine souls, Burgundy is the greatest challenge of all. One taste of a Montrachet or Romanée-Conti and one is doomed for a life of endless searching, and the painful reality of never-enough-money to even sniff wine’s Holy Grail. Even village wines cost more money than most mortals can spend. So it comes down to this: rare, ultra-expensive wines are often difficult to pronounce and harder to locate, even if one has reconciled the cost of the wine. It is no wonder that so many consumers have been chilled out of this precious wine region. Yet Burgundy, well aware of this situation, has begun to market wines that we all can afford.

Bourgogne Chardonnay and Bourgogne Pinot Noir is now the ticket back into Burgundy and provide the world with not just delicious and affordable wines, but wines that can be found in the marketplace. Wine experts freely admit that Burgundy is the birthplace of quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While both varietals (more chard than pinot) are widely grown throughout the world, history and research always begin here. Bourgogne is now the appellation that delivers the flavors of the varietals, as well as the characteristics of Burgundy at an affordable price.

Over the last 20 years, I have been most impressed with Bouchard Père et Fils and how their continued growth to make better and better wines. The current 2012 Bourgogne Chardonnay and 2012 Bourgogne Pinot Noir are excellent representatives of this category and of these varietals. One doesn’t always have to break the bank to enjoy the wines from this land that stretches from Dijon to Lyon. This pair of wines are from Burgundy with love.

Take Me to the River…

Gold Ridge Soil and VinesAnyone who’s lived in the Bay Area for more than a year or two has probably been to the Russian River, and anyone who is from the Bay Area probably has a story of a lost weekend spent there; however, you can easily speed though the valley without giving much thought to wine: if that’s the case, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can’t avoid wine in Napa -drive up highway 29, and the various wineries beckon you inside like a sidewalk sign twirler in a gorilla suit at tax time. The Russian River is more subtle. Whereas Napa has given itself over to development, the Russian River insists on holding on to its wild-west roots. Black Bart robbed stagecoaches here, and supposedly buried the take from a Wells Fargo heist in the hills above Korbel.

Standing on the corner of Occidental Road and the Gravenstein Highway pumping gas and looking across the street at a rental lot for heavy farm equipment, it’s easy to forget that arguably the greatest Pinot Noir in the world is grown right behind the tree line barely 100 feet away. Indeed, you can walk to Dutton-Goldfield, Dehlinger, Lynmar and 10 other wineries from where I am standing.

Much like the whole of France, this area used to be a shallow inland sea. When that sea receded, it left behind a delectable ring of marine sandstone called the Wilson Grove Formation, the jewel of which is the clay and sandstone blend called the Gold Ridge complex. To the west of me is the Green Valley AVA where this combination sits on a bed of fractured rock, and along with the influence of persistent fog accounts for a long ripening process, producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to rival all but the greatest Burgundies. The Pinots are filled with blackberries and violets; the Chardonnays with flavors of tangerine and green apple.

Walking out of the tasting room with six bottles stuffed under our collective arms, now comes the question of where to go and enjoy it! Sebastopol doesn’t offer much, Forestville even less. Finding great places to eat here is more of a treasure hunt; it all depends on what you want. If you want a perfect pairing for that Pinot Noir, you need to sample the menu at Highland Dell in Monte Rio, owned by members of the Bohemian Club; the food belies the quiet image of the town. If you are short of time, and need to head home, then Willi’s Wine Bar where River Road meets 101 had the best food you will find in this part of the county.

And here’s the secret that every local knows: the best time to visit is between now and the end of October; the weather is mild, but sunny and the tourists have gone home. So if you have time in the next few weeks, then head north. You won’t be disappointed.

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