Do you know the origin of the word “Merlot?” I’m referring to the grape, of course, which is the second most-planted variety in the world (behind Cabernet Sauvignon and ahead of Airén.)
As the story goes, a type of black bird found in Bordeaux was fond of plucking the dark grapes off the vines and eating them. The bird was called “merle,” and Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of that name.
I like Merlot. At its best, it’s soft and supple, a relaxed wine that should appeal to a wide variety of drinkers. (Of course, Merlot is used in blends, and when it’s combined with the more aggressive Cabernet Sauvignon, wonderful things can happen).
This week I sampled a bottle of Merlot from Swanson Vineyards, a 2013, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s from Napa — two Oakville vineyards to be exact — and it was bottled in April 2015 (18 months in French and American oak, 30 percent new oak). Its composition: 81 percent Merlot, 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7 percent Petit Verdot.
My tasting companion — a big fan of the movie Sideways — proudly stated that she “didn’t really care for Merlot.” I did not bother to respond, but merely pulled the cork from the bottle and poured. We took note of the aromas: a hint of spice, some bright cherry and plum. Merlot is dark, and this one is no exception; looking through the wine is not possible.
We tasted, and the Merlot-phobe smiled. She liked it, she really liked it. This Merlot has some impressive tannins, but they did not overpower. Expect a deep, serious hint of strawberry (ever so subtle), bolder plum, and, again, spice and some wood. This is an intense wine, but one balanced well. Winemaker Robin Akhurst has a good Merlot on his hands here.
Guess what we decided to pair it with? A hamburger topped with Gorgonzola cheese. A piece of butter lettuce, and, for me, a touch of aioli and mustard. It was a pleasurable meal, and I allowed my friend to enjoy her Merlot with abandon.