Merlot is either adored or overlooked by wine aficionados as many complain its lack of sophistication when compared to other noble varieties. I beg to differ as Merlot has more depth than meets the eye (or lips in this case.) A bit of a chameleon, this grape offers a myriad of flavors and textures based on the location of vineyards, temperature, the time of harvest and the winemaker’s technique. Merlot is blended within just about all of the greatest wines in Bordeaux and, depending on the style, can range from soft, smooth and fruit forward to austere, earthy and tannic. It is grown across the globe and accounts for 600,000 acres worldwide.
Sadly the grape was chastised in 2004 when a character from the movie Sideways gave a memorably negative assessment of merlot in just two script lines, pushing it off of its pedestal in many markets. Sure there are wines that give every grape a bad name, but we choose not waste our time on those unfortunate examples. Not only has Merlot allowed many novice enthusiasts to develop their palate for wine in early years but also has provided serious collectors to cellar some of the most prestigious and powerful wines of all time, Petrus and Masseto to name a few.
Looking through our cellar, I came across a few biodynamic Merlot that I would like to place in the spotlight today. Both wines are beautiful, unique and natural expressions of the grape, articulating the regions’ distinctive terroir while sharing a bit of the passion and talent of the hands they were crated from. Offering exceptional quality and value, these bottles will fit just about any occasion and pair beautifully with a range of fall and winter favorites.
Bodega Chacra is something of a dynastic operation. The estate is the project of Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, a young man from the family of Super Tuscan, Sassicaia. His Mainque Merlot is polished with impressive concentration, depth and length. Dark, almost brooding fruit, a subtle humidor of smokiness, and a tempting savory meatiness make the biodynamically produced Mainque stand apart from the crowd.
Movia Merlot 2004 $39.99
Movia has long been committed to biodynamic agriculture, the practice that is beyond organic and one that works with the power of the sun, the planets and the earth to cultivate plants and, in Movia’s case, to make wines. Deriving from almost 70-year-old vines, this unusually dense, jammy Merlot is picked late and macerated until all sugar is fermented, and then it ages in barriques on its lees and is bottled. This dry, fruit-forward interpretation of Merlot puts its earthy, woodsy foot forward in a lively body that excites the senses with its lively yet smooth and gentle palate of juicy red fruit, fresh-cut herbs, minerals and spice.
Two weeks ago I took a Sunday afternoon to adventure to Harlem. For those who are not aware or familiar with the area, it has been undergoing a slow but steady revitalization. I mean, you know you have arrived when a Whole Foods is on the way, right? An old friend of mine has just moved to the area and she invited me over for a small house warming gathering and per usual, I was asked to bring the wine. As always I wanted to select a few items that I know would be ultimate crowd pleasers. I also always look to include large format because truthfully, what is more fun than that? I line up two very different Rosso’s from Montalcino and the results were spectacular.
The Baricci Rosso di Montalcino 2012 is not easy to come by as only a handful of retailers in the States ever have access to it. In fact, after a disagreement with their domestic distributor years ago, Sergio is one of the main reasons they even sought another partner in America. This wine raced across the palate and did an exceptional job at cutting through the fat in the meats and cheeses that our host had laid out to enjoy. A great food wine, that instantly brings an incredible amount of enjoyment.
So I am sure by now you are all at least familiar with the name “Cupano.” It is the superstar estate in Montalcino that Sergio identified and secured exclusivity with! Their wines are naturally a little bigger, so it is unsurprising that their 2005 Rosso would still be outstanding. Even better is that we have the wine available in Magnum, so not only can you drink it now…you can drink it over the next decade. The wine was rich and palate staining and stood up perfectly to the amatriciana she had prepared. A wine perfectly matched for autumn’s hearty dishes.
The wines from the Veneto are made in a way that is entirely unique to the region. There are 3 main types of wines to be familiar with: Valpoicella (& Valpolicella Ripasso), Amarone, and the dessert wine Recioto.
Valpolicella is made in the traditional way, but Valpolicella Ripasso is a technique in which the wine is rinsed over the left over “must” from Amarone production. This adds an extra dimension of body and flavor to standard Valpolicella.
Amarone is special because it’s made using a technique called Appassimento. It involves taking the grapes, air-drying them so that any excess water evaporates, and then pressing the grapes to get concentrated juice. This results in wines that are rich and pack a punch! Amarones usually possess anywhere from 14.5-16% alcohol and sometimes more! Well-made Amarones won’t display the heat that’s present in high-alcohol wines because the body and depth of flavor add balance to the wine. If you like big Cali Cabs this is a must try!
Recioto is made by terminating fermenation before it reaches completion…an Amarone that was stopped early. This results in residual sugar that wasn’t allowed to ferment, giving the wine its sweetness. These wines possess notes of dark plums, coffee, mocha, chocolate, and spice to complement the sweetness. Perfect for powerful cheese or cheesecake!
Nicolis & Begali are two family owned artisanal producers. These estates have been making the wines of the region for generations. Both families are known for producing wines from low yield vineyards, thus resulting in lower production than some of their bigger and better known producers. We’re proud to feature and support these wines here at IWM.
A terrific example of Valpoicella, this wine is fruit forward with just a hint of the power and complexity of its bigger brother Amarone. This is a perfect wine for the dinner table and amazing with pizza or pasta.
Begali Monte Ca’Bianca 2008 $79.99
This is a single-vineyard Amarone. Many producers have elected to begin using a “cru” style system with a focus on these single-vineyard bottles. The purpose is to emphasize the difference in vineyards, as well as highlighting the superior quality fruit that these plots can yield. The Begali Monte Ca’Bianca is everything an Amarone should be – powerful with decisive depth and concentration…a beauty in the making.
After consistently drinking young wine all the time, tasting every new vintage either by sampling from barrel, at trade tastings or on arrival, it is easy to forget that what the winemaker is trying to achieve in flavor profile is down the road a few years. I am not saying that these wines are not beautiful upon release, they certainly are, however, often there are wonderful nuances and beautiful details in a wine that only begin to emerge with a few years in bottle.
I was recently perusing through our cellar and found two wines that I highly enjoyed the other evening and which clearly reminded me that there is sometimes there is nothing better than wine with a little time on it.
Domaine Comte Senard Aloxe-Corton 2005 $45.00
Comte Senard is one with a long history as a family owned estate in the Côte de Beaune. Philippe Senard’s wines are some of the most classic of the region. I remember the 2005 Aloxe-Corton was an intense powerful beast in its youth, now the wine flows with wonderful nuances of violets, dried flowers, and juicy silk laden red and blue fruits that caress the palate. This Aloxe-Corton 2005 has turned into an absolute gem and a steal at its amazing price.
Dujac Fils et Père Chambolle Musigny 2008 $68.00
Dujac Fils et Père was a successful project started by Jeremy Seysses before his eventual takeover of the family’s primary Domaine Dujac Fils et Père. His project continues today. Jeremy’s focus has always been select top caliber fruit from Chambolle Musigny, Morey-St-Denis, and Gevrey-Chambertin. The 2008 Chambolle was one of my favorite Village wines of 2008. It is dense and deep with flavors of red pitted fruits, coupled with dazzling mouth water acidity. Just a few years ago this once delicious but simple Chambolle has “grown wings” and now exhibits notes of black tea , potpourri , and warm raspberry compote, with a palate that is as smooth as glass and fills the taste buds with a melange of wild red fruits. This a dazzling Chambolle Musigny Village wine.
When asked about my favorite regions in Italy, there is no solid answer as several factors come into play such as weather, food, friends and whether or not it is a casual or special occasion. During cooler months I do find myself dipping into the cellar for more full bodied wines that excite the palate and warm the soul; more often than not wines of the Veneto perfectly fit the bill.
Located in the northestern region of Italy, Veneto offers a plethora of unique wines; some fresh and fragrant others brooding and beguiling. Although Amarone is one of the most famous red wines produced in Italy, it does not boast the long and storied history as its cousin, Recioto. Without reciting a great deal of history, I will mention the important points to remember. Recioto della Valpolicella is made using the same ‘appassimento’ process as Amarone, however the grapes are left to dry for an additional month, thus necessitating the selection of only the very best bunches during harvest. Not surprisingly, this special wine is only made in tiny quantities each year – a mere 2% of Amarone!
The sweet and unfortified wine was so named because only the ripest of ‘ears’(‘rece’ being slang for ‘orecchie’ or ears) of each grape cluster are selected to make the wine as the ‘upper shoulders’ of the bunches receive the most sunlight and are the most ripe. The resulting wine is decadent and rich, an absolute knockout when paired with food appropriately – particularly dishes with cured meat, cheese, game, nuts or chocolate on the sweet side. Providing tremendous pleasure, these wines are not given the attention they well deserve. Today I have chosen to highlight the following selections from our cellar:
Begali Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2010 (500ml) $49.50
The Begali estate began production around the time of the second world war and has since been creating harmonious wines that speak of the land and tradition. This gorgeous wine is medium-bodied with a beautiful, crushed velvet texture and a palate packed with vivid, seductive black fruit, toasted nuts and hints of chocolate.
Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2001 (375ml) $225
Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2001 $400
For Giuseppe, as with his father, the challenge of Recioto is a labor of love, but then it’s a historic wine: the Port-like Reicoto della Valpolicella Classico dates back to the early days of the Venetian Empire. This gorgeous, graceful wine is unfortified and its fermentation is arrested earlier than Quintarelli’s regular Valpolicella, thus leaving a higher amount of residual sugar and creating a sweeter wine with a palate of raisins, sweet spices, leather, and chocolate. All of Quintarelli’s wines are capable of very, very long aging, but none more so than the Recioto!
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