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KJ dazzles in Merlot taste-off

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, and Mark Britten

Despite the recent surge in the popularity of Pinot Noir, the oft-maligned Merlot has maintained its following. According to California’s Wine Institute, as of 2012 Merlot maintained its status as this country’s second most popular red variety after Cabernet Sauvignon with sales of 22 million cases in that year. The Institute attributes Merlot’s continuing popularity to its soft, luscious character coupled with its appeal to both new and regular wine drinkers.

This appealingly lush character is particularly apparent in Merlot wines produced in California and other relatively warm wine regions such as Australia and Chile. These Merlots tend to be low in tannin and fruit-forward compared, say, to Merlot-based wines from Bordeaux, which typically show an earthier and more tannic profile.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind-tasted a group of 17 Merlots from California, all priced under $25 per bottle. The tasters were curious to see if these wines would live up to their reputation for soft, fruit-driven appeal.

Most of the wines in the tasting did, indeed, exhibit a straightforward, pleasantly fruity character. If there was a single fault with several of the wines, it was the overwhelming presence of oak that smothered the otherwise appealing fruit.

As enjoyable as many of the wines were, one really stood out from the rest of the group. The Kendall-Jackson 2011 Grand Reserve Merlot, $24 per bottle, was the nearly unanimous top pick of the staff. In terms of balance, flavor interest, judicious use of oak, and lovely aromatics, it was in a class by itself.

The staff was not alone in its positive assessment. In its December 2013 edition, The Wine Advocate awards this wine a score of 91. Robert Parker, the Advocate’s eminent lead critic calls the Kendall-Jackson “outstanding,” and states, “Copious aromas of berries, mocha and chocolate as well as a hint of oak emerge from this full-bodied, opulent Merlot.”

This beautifully wrought wine shows just how compellingly delicious a moderately priced California Merlot can be. Try it with chicken with tarragon, roasted vegetables, or a hearty beef stew at your next dinner party. Your guests will love you!


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