Not exactly a new grape, Malbec is one of many grown in the Bordeaux region, usually as a mix-in to (once again) smooth out Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a very popular grape to plant, however, in South America and it’s the Argentina Malbecs that really are something worth looking into.
They range in temperament from soft and fruity to bold and spicy. The latter is my favorite and what I had the pleasure of tasting at a local wine festival. The spice notes were slightly smoky and really developed into a nice finish, tingling in the back of my throat.
An awesome fact about this particular wine is that it’s still under many radars (though gaining in popularity) and some really great bottles can be found for $10 and under. If you like bold, spicy reds, pick one up and give it a try.
Oh, probably one of the better known reds and, in some circles, the most maligned. Just the word “Merlot” sounds like smoky back rooms and femme fatales making breathy requests of the sommelier. Or something like that. Of course, just as quickly I’m reminded of Selma Blair’s nose-in-the-air reminder to her guests to not forget to “bring your own Merlot” (in Legally Blonde). And I’m told there are some very negative sentiments towards this particular grape in a certain wine-centric movie that I haven’t gotten around to watching myself. (I know, for shame, one of these days…)
The Merlot grape is grown extensively in the Bordeaux region of France as well as in Italy and Switzerland. It’s also one of the most popular grapes cultivated in California as well as a handful of other states. It’s generally considered softer and fruitier than the other Big Red (Cabernet) which is why some prefer it and others do not. To me it’s more a middle-of-the-road red and I prefer my wines more pronounced. It goes well with simpler red meat dishes, nothing too fussy or you might overpower the wine.
As hinted above, I’m not a huge fan of Merlot as a varietal and, to be honest, Cabernet is okay, but it’s not my wine of choice. Given this, I was quite surprised to find that a blend of the two really produces a lovely wine. At a Key Lime Cook-Off a couple of months ago, I tasted the Snoqualmie Vineyards Whistle Stop Red, which is a 70-30 Cabernet-Merlot blend. According to my wine reference, the French have been blending a bit of Merlot into Cabs for ages as it tends to blunt Cabernet’s natural tendency towards astringency while punching up the Merlot’s softer nature. It was an absolute revelation for me, to find that I liked it so much, and I snapped up a couple of bottles before leaving the event. (It also didn’t hurt that the cook-off and a portion of that day’s sales at the host location went to help the Leon County Humane Society.)
With our trip through the Alphahol complete, at least this round, I thought it’d be nice to take a break from cocktails and, instead, discuss a gentler subject: wine. Since I’m more a fan of reds than white, this month I’ll pick a red a week and chat a little about it. Hopefully you’ll share your favorites with me in the comments.
Beaujolais is a Burgundy wine made from the Gamay grape in the southern portion of the French Burgundy district. It’s not generally an aged wine, with 5 years being the upper reaches of it’s optimum life-span. With it’s very fruity nose and hints of dark cherry, the flavor can be fruity and light or oaky with a hint of pepper. It’s definitely a dry red, not sweet, with a light body that is meant to be served chilled, but not ice-cold.
Like many of the Burgundy table wines, Beaujolais is a good all-meal wine as it pairs well with grilled red meats, white fish, cheeses and cold meat dishes without overpowering any of it.
My go-to Beaujolais is the Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages. The one in house right now is a 2005, so an older Beaujolais but according to the website it was an excellent year weather-wise for reds which is probably why this one is still so very drinkable. What I love about it is that it works well to cook with and to drink, is easily spotted by it’s black ink on yellowed parchment label and can be found in my local grocery store for under $20 a bottle.
Make sure to check out their website for more information about this vineyard and it’s history. I love that the vintage notes go all the way back to 1860 and that they seem honest: not every year was a good year, but for most they were able to find something worthwhile in the grapes. Like the 1877 vintage where the vines were affected by frost but still describe the grapes as “elegant.” Or the 1915 vintage that mentions the war and that women were largely responsible for the harvest.