Browsing the archives for the Merlot tag

Varietal Voyage No.18 – 2007 Terra Andina Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I posted something new on the Varietal Voyage.  Things have been crazy at home and work making it difficult to find time to write.  Rest assured, we are back on our journey.

The last wine we tasted on the Varietal Voyage was Château Grand Destieu, a merlot from St. Emilion.  This week’s wine is the last merlot on our list: Terra Andina’s  2007 Merlot.

Terra Andina, a subsidiary of the Claro Group, is one of Chile’s largest wine producers making a wide variety of wines from vineyards across Chile’s diverse geography and climates.  Chief winemaker, Oscar Salas, took the reigns from his mentor Stefano Gandolini in 2008.  Trained in California and in some of Chile’s most famous wineries, Oscar is well versed in New World winemaking techniques and technologies. But his approach to winemaking is decidedly Old World with a focus on balance and finesse allowing natural flavors and aromas to shine through.

The 2007 Merlot is from Terra Andina’s Varietals collection, an affordable line of wines highlighting the character and expression of not only merlot, but other international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, carmenère, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

On the label you’ll notice the Denominación de Origen, or DO on the label says that this wine comes from Chile’s Central Valley, a large region containing the sub-regions of the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, and Maule Valleys (Terra Andina has a handy map identifying these regions as well as many others).  This label means that the grapes in this wine can come from anywhere within the Central Valley.  This allows the winemakers to chose the best fruit from a wide selection of terroirs, which is fairly common with affordable wines like this one.   Normally this is done to keeps costs down, but it also helps the winemaker to keep a consistent flavor profile from vintage to vintage.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because this wine is affordable ($9) that it is somehow less than delicious.  Chile is known for making quality wines at very low prices and 2007 Merlot is no exception.  It’s dark ruby color is deep and rich.  Fragrant aromas of ripe blackberries and plums are enhanced by peppery spice.  The medium-bodies flavors of blackcurrant and cocoa are bold and straightforward with faint hints of creamy vanilla lurking in the background.  The finish is somewhat short and clean but pleasing nonetheless.

2007 Terra Andina Merlot ($9)

  • Approx. 85% merlot, 15% mystery grape (my guess is cabernet sauvignon or possibly carménère)
  • Central Valley, Chile
  • Producer’s Fact Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.17 – 2005 Chateau Grand Destieu

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Varietal Voyage

The second merlot (in this case a merlot blend) on our journey comes from Saint Émilion on Bordeaux’s “right bank.” Château Grand Destieu is made by Jonathan Maltus, who also owns Château Teyssier, another highly regarded estate in Saint Emilion.  Maltus also has wineries and vineyards in Australia (Colonial Estate, Barossa Valley) and the U.S. (World’s End, Napa Valley) making a number of other top-rated wines.

This is the first time we have ventured into this part of France.  Saint Émilion, north of the Dordogne River, is roughly twenty-five miles (as the crow flies) from the city of Bordeaux.  Château Grand Destieu was established near the town of Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens over a century ago.  Jonathan Maltus acquired the property shortly after he took over the aging Château Teyssier in 1993.  This part of Saint Émilion is known for its gravelly, iron-rich soils known as crasse de fer.  The unique terroir and Maltus’ unique methods in the vineyards and in the winery have come together to create many highly rated and award winning wines, including Château Grand Destieu.

Click here to listen to a interview with Jonathan Maltus.

Unlike “left bank” wines where cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape in the blend with a handful of other grape varieties (merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot), “right bank” wines, like those from Saint Émilion are made mostly from merlot. Merlot based wines tend to be softer and rounder with more emphasis on fruit flavors, than their hard-edged cousins made from cabernet sauvignon. Château Grand Destieu is no exception with a blend of 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc.

The 2005 vintage of Château Grand Destieu is beautiful example of what the “right bank” has to offer.  This young Bordeaux blend has jewel tones of ruby and amethyst with aromas that remind you of  ripe blackberries and raspberries interlaced with fresh herbs.  It’s medium body is packed with ripe black fruit and spicy minerality.  Lively acidity keeps the flavor alive and dancing on the palate and well-rounded tannins with hints of licorice and bell pepper carry on through a medium length finish.  If you get a chance to pick up a bottle, do so.  But let it lay down for a few years to truly enjoy its full potential.


2005 Château Grand Destieu ($42)

  • Approx. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc
  • Saint Émilion, France

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 4

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Midwest Wine School Experience

The fourth class of the WSET Intermediate Level course delved into the world of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc. Covering three different varieties in one class made for a whirlwind session.  Jessica started by describing the three varieties and reviewed some of  the regions that produce some of the best and most age-worthy wines in the world.  We also covered the stylistic differences between wines from different regions, France and the US being a good example.  

For a good portion of the class Jessica reviewed the classic red Bordeauxvarieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a little about cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot).  She explained the differences between “left bank” and “right bank”.  The wines from here are blends of these varieties, with cabernet sauvignon being the primary grape in blend for “left bank” wines and merlot taking the lead in “right bank” wines.  This led into an informative discussion of the France’s AOC system and the Classification of 1855.  We also spent a good deal of time going over the how these varieties are being used in new world wines from places such as the United States, Australia, South America, and South Africa.  Many of the emerging wines from these areas are rivalling the quality and ageability of classic old world wines.

Sauvignon blanc also played an important part of the evening’s discussions.  This variety is a major player in the Loire Valley in the appellation of Sancerre.  It has a supporting role in Bordeaux, especially in southern Bordeaux, where it is blended with semillon to create the famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac.  This popular variety is also being grown in many new world regions where is does quite well in cooler latitudes.  On New Zealand’s south island, Marlborough is quickly emerging as one on the best regions for sauvignon blanc.

Next week’s session will be led by Jaclyn Stuart, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing, who will guide us through the wines of Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Wines Tasted (Class 4):

  1. Apaltagua Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Colchagua, Chile)
  2. Chateau Reignac 2003 (Bordeaux, France)
  3. Zulu Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
  4. Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot 2003 (Napa Valley, CA)
  5. Domaine Fournier Sancerre Les Belles Vignes 2007 (Loire Valley, France)
  6. Hunters Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (Marlborough, New Zealand)

Tuscan Wines on the Horizon – New Wines from Le Miccine

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Tasting Note

I recently had the unique opportunity to taste four new wines from Le Miccine, an Italian winery in the heart of Tuscany.  The line-up consisted of a unique mono-varietal made from 100% vermentino, two chianti classicos, and a “super-tuscan” made from a blend of merlot and malvasia nera.

Left to right: ’08 I’aura, ’07 Don Alberto Chianti Classico Riserva, ’07 Chianti Classico, ’07 La Principessa

About Le Miccine…

When they purchased Le Miccine in 1996 Clifford Weaver and Donna Meneghetti Weaver took on the monumental task of converting a languishing bulk-wine producer into a  quality-focused estate winery.  For the past fourteen years, the Weaver’s and their team of experts, led by consulting enologist Vittorio Fiore and consulting agronomist Remigio Bordini,  have created award-winning wines tailored to today’s discerning wine drinker while maintaining the time honored traditions of Chianti Classico.

The Weaver’s acquired neglected vineyards with great potential in an area well suited to making premium Italian wines.   A rigorous program of thinning, retraining, and replanting the vineyards has resulted in lower yields, allowing each vine to produce the best fruit possible.  The changes in the vineyards, combined with upgrades to the equipment and technology in the winery have enabled the team at Le Miccine to dramatically improve the overall quality of their wines.

The Wines…

2008 Le Miccine I’aura (100% vermentino)

Finding vermentino in a mono-varietal wine is somewhat rare.  Most of the time you’ll find it blended with other varieties such as trebbiano.  I’aura is a distinctive wine that stands well on its own.  It has a pale golden color with floral and herbal aromas reminiscent of a crisp sauvignon blanc.  The light-bodied flavors are very refreshing with distinct notes of tropical and stone fruits tied together by an underlying backbone of flinty minerality. Its fresh acidity and clean finish make this a very food friendly wine that will pair well with light summertime fare.

2007 Le Miccine Chianti Classico (85% sangiovese, 10% malvasia nera, 5% merlot)

The ’07 Chianti Classico is a direct descendant of the Weaver’s first vintage in 1997.  Emanating from its gorgeous ruby color are refined aromas of dark cherry with delicate undertones of vanilla and toasty spice.   Juicy flavors of cherries and raspberries along with creamy vanilla nuances are brought into balance by bright acidity and light tannins with distinctive peppery spice.  The medium-length finish reinforces the well balanced combination of fruit an oak.  This wine paired nicely with the rich shrimp and pasta dish that we had for dinner.

2007 Le Miccine “Don Alberto” Chianti Classico Riserva (100% sangiovese)

The “Don Alberto” Riserva is made from the best fruit in Le Miccine’s vineyards.  In 2007 the small amount of fruit provided enough juice for only 155 cases!  Careful selection and meticulous vinification has resulted in an opulent Chianti Classico with a complex range of aromas and flavors.  The deep ruby color is full of rich cherry and blackberry aromas with complex hints of leafy tobacco.  Juicy black cherry flavors and spicy vanilla notes are integrated with well-rounded tannins made evident by the additional barrel aging required for riservas.  The lingering finish is laced with subtle flavors of dried berries and smoky vanilla.  I would give this one a more few years to mature in order to fully enjoy the complexities of a Chianti Classico Riserva.

Note:  This was a barrel sample provide by the winery.  The ’07 “Don Alberto” will be released in May, 2010.

2007 Le Miccine La Principessa (80% merlot, 20% malvasia nera)

The final wine in the line-up was La Principessa, Le Miccine’s “super tuscan.” It’s bright red ruby color is full of fresh cherry and wild berry aromas.  Full bodied flavors hold true to the aromas with the soft textures of creamy vanilla and soft well-rounded tannins.  Pair this with a succulent roast or a rack of lamb and you can’t go wrong!

A Final Note…

Le Miccine’s wines can be found in numerous retail outlets and restaurants in Illinois and the greater Chicago area.  They can also be found in a few select locations in California.  Keep an eye out for these wines in a location near you as they expand into the U.S. Market.  See Le Miccine’s website for a retailer or restaurant in your area.

Varietal Voyage No.16 – 2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Varietal Voyage No.16 represents the sixteenth wine on our journey and the first wine made primarily from merlot. Charles Krug’s 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($16) seemed like the perfect choice to represent the American leg of our voyage.

Charles Krug founded Napa Valley’s first winery in 1861. As a young winemaker, he quickly became a leading figure in the development of California wines. His foresight in viticulture and technological skill laid the groundwork for America’s budding young wine industry.  After his death in 1892, Krug’s winery was sold to James Moffitt who carried it successfully though the turbluent years of Prohibition.  Moffitt would later pass the winery to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi, in 1943.  Eventually the two brothers, Robert and Peter, would have their turn running the winery.  After their father’s death in 1959, Rosa became president and assigned Robert as the general manager and gave Peter the position as vice president.  The relationship between the two brothers was always a little stormy, and in 1965 Robert would leave Charles Krug to start his own winery.  Today, Peter, along with his two sons, Peter, Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue with the same innovative spirit started by Charles Krug almost 150 years earlier.

The Charles Krug Winery is located in St. Helena, in the northern portion of Napa Valley. The grapes used in the 2006 Napa Valley Merlot come from several of the Mondavi family’s vineyards located within the region.  The climate in Napa Valley is a little warmer and drier than its neighbor, Sonoma County, to the east.  The Mayacamas Mountains separate the two regions, preventing some of the rain and cool, Pacific ocean breezes from reaching Napa’s vineyards.  The southern areas, near Carneros, tend to be cooler than the northern parts of the valley because of the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.  Cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape grown here, but merlot runs a close second. The red wines made here have rich, intense fruit flavors with riper, fuller tannins as you move further up the valley.

This definitely is not a “wimpy” merlot.  This deep ruby colored wine is full of intense black cherry and currant flavors wrapped in fragrant aromas of blackberries and boysenberries with the subtle spicy character of pepper and anise.  The addition of cabernet sauvignon, bolsters supple tannins and supports the spiciness resulting in a rich, velvety texture.  A light, but lively level of acidity keeps the flavors alive and nuanced hints of vanilla and spice linger on through a long finish.

2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($16)

  •  93% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, o.5% Petit Verdot, o.5% Cabernet Franc (you can really taste CF ;))
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Charles Krug Information Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Varietal Voyage No.15 – 2005 Château Bernadotte

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Varietal Voyage

The fifteenth wine on our journey and the last cabernet sauvignon comes from the Haut-Medoc, on Bordeaux’s “Left Bank.”  Château Bernadotte is in the commune of Saint Sauveur, close to the western edge of the Pauillac appellation.  Even though Château Bernadotte lies within the borders of the Haut-Medoc (map) , it is only a few miles from prestigious neighbors like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour, in the region of Pauillac.

Like the majority of producers in Bordeaux, Château Bernadotte has a long history, going back as far as 1645.  In the early 1800′s, The château recieved the name, Bernadotte, in honor of  Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a field marshal under Napolean I.  Attracted by the favorable climate and soils and its proximity to other classified growths in Pauillac, Château Bernadotte was acquired by Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in 1997.   In 2007, May Eliane de Lencquesaing, the owner of  Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande sold the majority interest of both properties to the Champagne house of Louis Roederer.

The vineyards of Château Bernadotte are blessed with similar soils to the classified properties closer to the Gironde River.  The sandy gravel promotes good drainage and a layer of clay helps the vines resist draught while the grapes mature.  Like most producers in Bordeaux, they have planted cabernet sauvigon, merlot, with smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot which are blended together create the final wine.  Because weather conditions in Bordeaux can vary dramatically from year to year, the proportion of grapes in the blend can change to adapt to the variations of each growing season.  The 2005 vintage is a blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 48% merlot, and 3% cabernet france.  Petit verdot was omitted from the blend in 2005.

The 2005 Château Bernadotte is well crafted with many of the qualities expected from a good Bordeaux.  This medium-bodied wine has a deep red color with fragrant aromas of plums, black currants and layers of earthy green herbs. Flavors of  juicy black currants and raspberries dominate the palate with overtones of mint and woody spice.  Bright acidity balances the ripe fruit as the aggressive grip of young tannins builds thoughout a long toasty, vanilla laced finish.  Unless you like dry, tannic wines, I recommend using a decanter or just letting is rest a few more years in order to soften the young tannins.  This will be great one to revisit in five or ten years.

2005 Château Bernadotte ($33)

  • 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
  • Haut-Medoc, France

This was the last cabernet sauvignon on the voyage.  Merlot is the next variety we’ll explore, which will bring us back to Bordeaux sometime in the next few weeks.

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

2006 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to taste Chateau Montelena’s 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).  It was included in a flight of wines that I tasted during the WSET class being taught at WineStyles in Brookfield. Sue bought a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon last year and is still resting in the cellar waiting for that perfect meal or occasion.  Although the 2006 harvest wasn’t as good as the one in 2005, I think this wine offered a good preview of things to come.

Chateau Montelena is at the northern tip of Napa Valley, in the heart of the recently christened Calistoga AVA, a region known for the quality its red wines.  All of Chateau Montelena’s vineyards for this wine are located close to the banks of the Napa River and share similar soil characteristics to those found in Bordeaux.  It is these characteristics and the hot dry California climate that deliver a complex and concentrated cabernet sauvignon.  Much like the winemakers of Bordeaux, Chateau Montelena has chosen to blend in small amounts of merlot and cabernet franc to soften the otherwise aggressive tannins of the youthful cabernet sauvignon and create additional layers of complexity.

Tasting Notes:

The experience of tasting this wine started off a little rough.  The first bottle we opened was “corked”, a notable flaw in the wine caused by tainted cork.  Rendell Thomas, the owner of WineStyles, was observing the class and offered to supply another bottle so we could fully appreciate what this wine had to offer.  The new bottle was much better, with no sign of cork taint. In the glass the ’06 has an intense ruby color with just a touch of purple round the edges.  Rich aromas of ripe black cherries and currants are laced with layers of spicy pepper and cedar.  The aromas carry through into the palate with lots of ripe black fruit at the forefront.  The acidity is well balanced making the ripe fruit seem juicier. Notes of vanilla and chocolaty spice are accompanied by the grip of young, ripe tannins that continue to build throughout the long finish.

2006 Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico

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Tasting Note

The Antinori family has a long history of making fine wines going back as far as 1385. Considered to be pioneers and innovators in the Italian wine industry, their methods and techniques have helped reinvent winemaking in Tuscany and have been credited with starting the “Super-Tuscan” revolution. Over the past six centuries, Antinori has developed and acquired vineyards throughout Tuscany and across the world, including the United States, Hungary, Chile and Malta.

The Pèppoli vineyards are one of the newest acquisitions.  Located in Italy’s Chianti Classico region, Pèppoli is just a few miles from Antinori’s famed Tignanello estate.  Antinori purchased the property in 1985, on the family’s 600th anniversary in the winemaking business, and released the first vintage of Pèppoli Chianti Classico in 1988.  The vineyards are planted in a protected valley on east and northeast facing slopes where the grapes can take full advantage of the morning sun.  The rocky, mineral-laden soils are perfect for growing sangiovese with lively fruit flavors and bright acidity.

Tasting Notes:

Pèppoli ($23) is a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% merlot and syrah, creating a unique expression of Chianti Classico, with the characteristics of a young fruit-forward wine and the complexity of an oak-aged riserva.  This modern Chianti has a deep ruby color with the juicy aromas of strawberries and raspberries, amplified by vanilla and toffee notes imparted while aging in American and Slovenian oak barrels. The flavors are fruit-forward, but not sweet, with full body and soft, round tannins that play out over a long finish.

2004 Chateau Siran

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Tasting Note

I originally intended to drink this bottle of Chateau Siran for Varietal Voyage No.15, but a funny thing happen on the way to the cellar…

Bordeaux is the source for some of the best cabernet sauvignon in the world, so this seemed the logical place to go for the last wine in this series.  With the exception of a few chateaux, red Bordeaux from the “left bank” (west side of the Gironde River) is typically a blend of several grapes with cabernet sauvignon being the dominant grape in the blend.  Chateau Siran just happens to be one of those exceptions, with merlot being the predominant grape (50%) and the rest being cabernet sauvignon (35%), and petite verdot (15%).  Of course, I didn’t realize this until I did a little more research about the chateau.  The Varietal Voyage was intended to explore the the subtle differences between many different grape varieties from all over the world.  Since this wine has more merlot that cabernet sauvignon, we felt that it didn’t fit into this flight.  With that said, we’ll defer the final wine in this series until next week.  C’est la vie!

Chateau Siran has been in existence since the 1420′s when the feudal lord, Guilhem de Siran was given control over the surrounding lands. For the next 430 years ownership of the lands changed hands several times over.  By the end of the 17th century Chateau Siran had developed a reputation for creating quality wines.  In 1859, four years after the famed 1855 Classification, the Miailhe family took ownership of Chateau Siran.  One hundred fifty years and five generations later the Miailhe family still owns Chateau Siran and continues to make top quality wines.

The vineyards of Chateau Siran lie in the gravely river beds of the Margaux appellation, just north of the city of Bordeaux.  Sharing much of the same soil and terroir of its first growth cousin, Chateau Margaux, it’s speculated that the quality of Siran’s wines are equal to, if not better than many of chateaux listed in the 1855 Classification. The soil, composed mostly of sand and gravel, has excellent drainage forcing the vines to grow deep to find water and nutrients.  The flat terrain and quality of the soil, combined with the time honored techniques of the winemakers create wines with the famed character and age worthiness found only in Bordeaux.

Tasting Notes:

Sue and I are relatively new to Bordeaux wines so this was a fun learning experience.  I found the ’04 Siran ($50) to be thoroughly enjoyable, but Sue was a little less impressed. One thing that Sue noticed was a faint odor of burnt rubber, a smell sometimes found in young wines due to the sulphur compounds created during in the wine making process.  Good thing is that this is almost always temporary and blows off quickly.  Thankfully the aromas of black raspberries and currants quickly took over, revealing themselves amongst flavors reminiscent of Chambord (minus the syrupy sweetness) with well-balanced acidity.  Throughout each sip was an underlying backbone of minerals and silky tannins, a classic trait of  Bordeaux wines.  Notes of vanilla and cinnamon carried over into a pleasant finish.

Varietal Voyage – The Beginning

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Varietal Voyage
For sometime now, I have wanted to expand my knowledge of the vast viticultural world of wine. I have tasted a fair share of wines, but always seem to gravitate to the same familiar varieties. Not that there is anything wrong with liking a few good wines, but there is so much more to experience!

I recently read in Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” about a plan for expanding your knowledge of wine. She spoke of a systematic plan, sampling different wines over a six month time frame. This was exactly what I was looking for. With a little research and some consultation with Sue, the plan was hatched!

Over the next six months, Sue and I will partake in a voyage of varietal discovery. The first three months focuses purely on white wines. The following three months are devoted to reds. Throughout each trimester we will explore four varieties and three different regions for each.

Month 1-3: The Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc (US, New Zealand, France) – VV1, VV2, VV3
  • Chenin Blanc (US, France, South Africa) – VV4, VV5, VV6
  • Chardonnay (US, France, Australia) – VV7, VV8, VV9
  • Viognier (US, France, Australia) – VV10, VV11, VV12

Month 4-6: The Reds

  • Cabernet Sauvignon (US, France, South America) – VV13, VV14, VV15
  • Merlot (US, France, South America) – VV16, VV17, VV18
  • Syrah/Shiraz (US, Australia, France) – VV19, VV20, VV21
  • Petite Sirah (US, France, Australia)

So that’s the grand plan – twenty-four wines over the next six months. Stay tuned. This blog will be the travelogue of our adventure!