Week 45 – Merlot

We tasted: Filia de Grand Mayne, M&S, £23

Emma says: “And the big judgement commences. For once we have managed to strike gold and have a lovely bottle of St Emilion Grand Cru at home; a welcome break from scouring the shops for our weekly grape.”

It is also a rare thing, it is Andy’s wine. Normally wine collecting is my thing and he sticks firmly to hoarding a veritable mountain of spirits.

The wine we have is a “second wine” which is a relatively new thing in Bordeaux. It means a well known Chateau has selected out its best fruit for its top wine which you pay top dollar for. Then it produces a second wine with the fruit that don’t quite make its first selection. Normally you get great value for money from these wines since they have the first class winemaking of the top wine but cost a fraction of the price. And as Bordeaux Chateau prices have risen over recent decades many people have resorted to buying these second wines that don’t break your bank balance quite as seriously. Mind you they still all cost over £20 a bottle so either way they fall into my “special” wine territory.

Wines of the right bank are typically a bit more easy going than the Medoc (left bank) wines that are Cabernet dominant. The merlot fruit being dominant in the blend you can find that there is a rich berry fruit nose and supple easy going palate. Typically these wines are blended with a little Cabernet Franc to add a structural element plus a nice herbaceous character.

Our wine is from 2011 which means it has a decent bit of age. And I was pleased to find it really came through on the aroma. It has a lovely soft shoe leather character, along with tobacco and a sweet fragrant plummy character typical of Merlot. The vintage was quite cool and not one of the best but pleasingly this has given it a sweet herbal tinge in a pleasant way. To taste it was supple and silky in texture, in fact it felt beautifully smooth. It opened out in layers of flavour that started with cassis and plum fruit and developed to sweet licquorice, coffee bean, clove and that earthy mocha that comes with age. I’m so pleased that we got a wine that really shows that Merlot can be complex, it isn’t as structured as a Cabernet but that gives it an elegance and finesse that definitely elevates above an average wine.

Andy says: “I find it much easier to describe wines that are full of big, bold flavours. ‘It smells like an old, muddy boot, and tastes like the inside of the finest cherry pie you ever had.’

This wine though, is soft, delicate and refined. I don’t have the palate nor the food tasting experience to discern anything helpful. If pushed, I would say dark fruits, like cherry. On the nose there is a soft leather aroma, and the tannins are soft and supple, giving a light grip that lessens with a long finish.

I suspect this wine is much better than I am able to tell.”

Buying Guide

Poor Merlot got a bad reputation after the iconic wine film “Sideways” put it down. It is a soft fleshy grape which means it can make simple wines without massive structure. But you can’t forget that some of the most expensive wines in the world in Bordeaux (St Emlion/Pomerol) are made mostly from this grape. So this week we are heading right to its heartland of Bordeaux to seek out one of those and see if we can put it to the test.

3 thoughts to “Week 45 – Merlot”

  1. Wine – Domaine de Compostelle Pomerol 2011 (Majestic £24)

    Colour – Deep ruby red, fading at the edges to pale ruby

    This is a special wine; when that familiar damp earth aroma hits your nose, you know you’re in for a treat. Under the damp earth is a powerful concentrated blast of black stone fruits with a menthol lift, all boxed in smoky cedar-wood; and if I was forced at gunpoint to find one more aroma, I would have to say wet brick. But thankfully, that rarely happens. This is one of those wines you spend longer smelling than drinking, just teasing yourself with the aroma, anticipating what’s to come.

    The wine is really silky and smooth, delivering flavours of leather, black cherry, blackcurrant, mint, liquorice and tobacco. I found that the finish on this wine is more pronounced than on most wines, it’s not so much a haunting ‘fading away’ of the flavours as a ‘final explosion’ of flavour, albeit an ultra-dry rendition of those flavours. This may be due to the tannins needing another year or two to reach the pinnacle of balance I’m sure this wine is capable of. Also, the alcohol burn intruded slightly, surprising in a wine of only 13%. But I’m trying to find faults now, but only because this wine is frustratingly close perfection, it’s almost defined by it’s (tiny) faults.

    Pomerol is not a wine I am overly familiar with; I have had it before, but writing these reviews and thinking about the wines makes me realise how special this wine is. I drank this wine with some early to middle period Bob Dylan. It doesn’t get much better than that. (Unless you’re my missus, who doesn’t like the sound of mouth-organs or red wine).

  2. I seem to be geekily constant in my comments, but I’ve made this far so will soldier on to the end! My Merlot was a Chateau Teyssier Montagne-Saint-Emilion 2013 which I bought in Oddbins for £17.

    It was a vibrant deep ruby in the glass. The nose was absolutely lovely with a wonderful hugging, smooth, spicey warmth. There were mellow plums, pomegranates and blackcurrants plus some gorgeous oaky spices – a touch of leather, nutmeg and cloves. If I really tried I could even sense a touch of spearmint.

    The palate was dry, surprisingly tannic – really drying out the tongue – and relatively light bodied. It was a lovely taste of plums, cassis and a bit of unami (black olive?), plus a touch of leather. It didn’t quite live up to the nose though. It had a good length, but was perhaps a tad too tannic.

    Overall, I really liked this wine and preferred it to the Margaux of week 35 (which surprised me as I always though I preferred Cab Sav to Merlot – another 52 grapes revelation).

    I also had a bottle of cheap and cheerful Australian Merlot hanging about the kitchen (McGuigan Classic 2017). It seemed rude not to compare it. This one was very fruity on the nose – blackcurrant, sour cherry, violets – and light bodied, medium dry. There were simple fruity flavours of juicy blackcurrant and cheery, and not much else. It was thin and watery and seemed a bit like alcoholic squash compared to the Saint-Emilion. It was very easy drinking, inoffensive and interesting to see how different it was to the cooler climate old world Daddy (which you’d expect at less than a third the price).

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