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A day without wine is a day without sun. - Provencal proverb

The November tasting theme of Arnaud's wine club was Merlot. We tasted a great selection of seven wines, some being pure Merlot, some blended with additional Bordeaux varietals, from very different wine regions including Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon, Chile, California and Washington State. The very good quality of these wines proved that Merlot can not only be a blending varietal but can also excel on its own or as the main varietal of a blend.

Characteristics of the grape

The Merlot grape is thin-skinned with small pips and a juicy flesh. The wines made out of Merlot are usually very fruity with a rich and soft palate. They have less tannins than the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines and are more approachable earlier in their life, although the very best can age for decades.

The wines

We started with a Chilean wine from the Colchagua Valley. This valley of Mediterranean climate, which has been described as "a paradise for winemakers", is influenced by the marine breeze of the Pacific ocean and the winds of the Andes mountains. The 2001 Casa Lapostolle Merlot Cuvée Alexandre had a spicy nose with fruity aromas that reminded me of black cherries in alcohol. The palate was full-bodied with additional notes of bittersweet cocoa powder. The finish was very tannic. I found this wine to be interestingly complex and I guess that with some additional cellaring time, it should be even better.

For the second wine, we moved to California and Alexander Valley, a region that is way more laid-back than its prominent neighbor to the southeast - the Napa Valley. The 2001 Cloverdale Ranch Alexander Valley Merlot offered a strong fruity nose,a supple palate with soft tannins and a somewhat alcoholic finish. It was an easy wine to drink but it did not have the aromatic complexity of the Casa Lapostolle.

The next wine we tasted was a French wine from the Domaine Jean-Louis Denois. Jean-Louis Denois is a passionate and innovative winemaker who believes in environmentally friendly vineyard practices. The domaine's vineyards are situated in the extreme Southwest of Languedoc, the cool region of Limoux at the foot of the Pyrenees, better known for its sparkling wines. The 2001 Jean-Louis Denois Chloé exhibited a fragant spicy nose followed by a full-bodied palate of ripe berries, a warm mouth-feel and a very nice lengthy finish. I enjoyed this wine a lot.

Going north, we moved to Libournais, a region that lies along the right side of the Dordogne River, where the two next wines originated. Libournais is the realm of the Merlot grape variety usually complemented by Cabernet Franc. The two wines were also from the 2000 vintage, a spectacular vintage in Bordeaux. Interestingly, the two wines showcased two different styles of Right Bank wines. The 2000 Château La Grâce Dieu had a subtle nose with notes of oak and vanilla, a medium-bodied palate with firm tannins and a polished finish. I found the wine to be a restraint but well-balanced wine done in a traditional Saint-Emilion style. It is very drinkable now but properly cellared, it should continue to age well.

The other Bordeaux wine came from the Lalande de Pomerol, a region adjacent to Pomerol which produces full-flavored wines that you can get at more reasonable prices . The 2000 Château la Fleur de Boüard was produced by Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus (one of Saint-Emilion's 1er Grand Cru Classé), a leading oenologist that brought modern vinification methods to the area. The wine exhibited ripe fruit aromas on the nose with a rich, concentrated mouthfeel and a tight finish with a good amount of tannins. It was a good example of a modern style French Merlot.

With the last two wines, we moved back to the American continent. The first wine was from Columbia Valley, a Washington State wine region located at about the same latitude as Bordeaux, with warm days, cool nights and an extra long growing season producing intense and elegant wines. The 2002 Walla Walla Vintners Merlot Columbia Valley offered sweet berry fruit on the nose followed on the palate by aromas that reminded me of vanilla flan. The finish was smooth with tannins already well integrated.

The last wine was from a Napa Valley winery renowned for the quality of its Merlot based wines. 2002 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley was a powerful wine with a bold young body and an alcoholic finish that should soften and gain in complexity with time. This wine was definitively too young to be drunk now.

Catherine Granger & Arnaud Cabanel
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