January 8th, 2009 – Merlot

Saturday night’s wine is a Merlot – and not your “Sideways” Merlot! It is the 2007 from La Frenz in Naramata, B.C., the winery that is, arguably, the best in B.C. (and Canada) on a wine-by-wine basis.
And this wine is a beauty!!! Still purple and very young, it is amazingly ripe (without being sweet)…lovely plummy/blackcurrant flavours that are almost liqueur-like…very smooth, and nicely wrapped in a vanilla/oak blanket. Quite an accomplishment, given 2007 wasn’t a perfect growing season. I would bet this wine – tasted blind against some California wines – would do very well indeed! And at $27 a bottle, priced at half the price of its southern cousins. Too bad it is only available at the winery, and now sold out!
So what is it about Merlot, anyway? It became popular 10+ years ago in California because it was so juicy and smooth, and didn’t have the tannins that Cabernet Sauvignon did. That meant it could be drunk with pleasure right away.
And that built, of course, on the ultimate Merlot from Bordeaux — Chateau Petrus! It (and some other small production wines from the region of Pomerol) became the darlings of the wine business, with prices going into the stratosphere – literally thousands of dollars a bottle, if you could even get your hands on one! I have never tried Petrus and can’t imagine I will ever get the chance. I’m not sure I would pay anything like that for a wine anyway, but that is another story…
Unfortunately, the increase in popularity lead to everybody trying to make Merlot, many either through mass production or “on the cheap”. The result – thin, woody wines that had little or no fruit. Hence the Sideways situation (a great movie, by the way, whether you are a wine buff or not).
So where does that leave us now? Well, there is less Merlot overall; still lots that isn’t good, but a lot that is, but is too expensive. British Columbia makes some good Merlot, and La Frenz’s is the best. It isn’t made for long aging, but for pure pleasure it is hard to beat.
SB

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