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Know your wine: Merlot magic
Alok Chandra |
May 09, 2006
Among the different wine grapes (and the wines made from those grapes) is the Merlot -- a black grape variety known internationally as the faithful companion to Cabernet Sauvignon in making the great, long-lived blended red wines of Bordeaux, but which is not yet grown in India.
The Merlot is softer, lusher and less austere than the CS, and like the senior partner takes well to oak, but has less tannin and acidity. Its flavours tend to plums and blackcurrants (again like CS) but can display vegetal streaks (beans, asparagus) if coming from cooler climates.
As such, the grape has only recently started being sold as a varietal -- historically, it was almost always blended with CS and sold as Bordeaux, or as other blends.
The first Merlot available in India was a Chilean wine, imported in bulk and bottled under the Satori ('Sudden Enlightenment') brand name by Sula Vineyards in the year 2000, as the quality and quantity of black wine grapes available was inadequate. The brand is still very popular, though one hears that it is getting phased out as there are more attractive alternatives now available. The company claims 'a herbaceous, complex character; a balanced round structure with a silky mouth feel and a lingering finish; a soft, fruity style with a hint of spice invites early enjoyment.' Priced at Rs 425-450, this is a nice, easy-drinking red wine.
Later, Indage also started a BII ('Bottled In India') Merlot from Australia under the Cranswick label, priced between Rs 450 and 535 (Mumbai). This has since been discontinued -- as have all BII wines formerly marketed by Indage, possibly as BII wine had been slapped with high taxes in Maharashtra.
There's a fair number of imported merlots available: apart from the Bordeaux wines, most of which are available only in five star hotels (anyone for a Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1997 at Rs 25,000-27,500? Or a Chateau Latour 1985 at Rs 76,000!?).
Hardy's 'Stamp of Australia' Cabernet Merlot (that blend!) is Rs 750 in Bangalore and the Yalumba Oxford Landing Merlot is Rs 1,200; the Woodbridge Robert Mondavi Merlot is Rs 1,570 and the very good-value Michel Laroche Merlot (France) is a mere Rs 660.
The better Merlots include Green Point (Rs 1,600) and Cape Mentelle (Rs 2,000) -- both from Australia, and the Casa Lapostolle (also Rs 1,500) from Chile. Radico has also been flogging Gallo's Sierra Valley Merlot (Rs 920) and Turning Leaf Merlot (Rs 1,085) with declining success.
As one can see, the Merlot grape has certainly travelled all over from its French origins, and is planted worldwide -- except in India, for no reason that I can understand. Perhaps its because, on its own, Merlot makes a soft, light wine and needs to be blended with other varieties that lend colour and tannins.
So, the next time you splurge on a Bordeaux, look for the subtle, soft notes coming from Merlot (in the partnership, it is the female equivalent) and appreciate the good work being done.
Alok Chandra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.