Start searching for these oft-overlooked merlots

Merlot is a great companion for  vegetable dishes and red meats.

Merlot is a great companion for vegetable dishes and red meats.

Who would have thought 15 years ago, during the height of its popularity, that merlot would have been relegated to the same ranks as white zinfandel as “not cool to drink”? The fact is that then, and even still now, there were a lot of overpriced and boring, if not downright dreadful, merlots on the market, and not just from California. New Zealand, Chile, Italy and South Africa were equal offenders — if not in quantity, then certainly in quality.

Since merlot was cast aside in favor of pinot noir at first — and now any esoteric grape imaginable — it seems to have less of a presence. If it weren’t for Bordeaux, where merlot plantings have been on the rise for several years, I wonder if people would talk about it at all.

Merlot is not as food-friendly as pinot noir and some other red wines. It works best with red meats, especially those that are not gamey. Forget about pairing it with fish (sorry), but vegetable dishes work. The bright side here is that because merlot is inherently low in tannin, it does not need much fat. Ratatouille, stuffed peppers and grilled vegetables can do the trick.

There are, and have always been, unique and complex wines made from merlot. I am not just talking about France’s Château Petrus, a $2,000 wine from Pomerol, but also the old renditions made by Havens and still by Foxen. While not as pricey as Petrus, most of the more worthy merlots cost more than $20. Still, there are a few bargains to be found. Here are my top three:

Vinum Merlot, 2008 (California): San Francisco resident Richard Bruno makes a merlot that is spot-on and varietally correct using fruit from the Hames Valley in Monterey. Bruno and his co-pilot, Chris Condos, launched Vinum with a chenin blanc. Over time, it’s expanded to include a host of other grapes. With black olives, tomato plant, pepper, cocoa, and bright blackberry and raspberry fruit, this is a textbook cool-climate merlot.
Suggested retail: $12

Domaine Patience Merlot, Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Pont de Gard, 2009 (Rhone Valley, France): Located in the Costières de Nimes, Domaine Patience took over the long-held family property in 1994 and started practicing organic viticulture in 2008. This area is known for its syrah-grenache-mourvedre blends, but merlot has always done well on Patience’s land. Rich with dried herb and spice overtones, and chocolate- and licorice-tinged black cherry fruit, it rivals many Bordeaux wines for the price.
Suggested retail: $12

Binz Merlot, Nackenheim, 2009 (Rheinhessen, Germany): The town of Nackenheim, which is noted for its red slate, is not exactly known for red wine, let alone anything other than riesling, but Rainer and Manfred Binz consistently make delightful merlot. Given the terroir, it is light for the varietal, but has more acid than usual, and its black cherry fruit quality interspersed with a vibrant minerality gives it a fresh and inviting quality.
Suggested retail: $15

These wines can be found at Canyon Market, K&L Wine Merchants, Mike’s Liquors, Paul Marcus Wines and Whole Foods Oakland.

Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.

FeaturesFood & DrinkFood and WineSan Franciscowine

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Construction in the Better Market Street Project between Fifth and Eighth streets is expected to break ground in mid-2021.<ins></ins>
SFMTA board to vote on Better Market Street changes

Agency seeks to make up for slimmed-down plan with traffic safety improvements

A view of Science Hall at the City College of San Francisco Ocean campus on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
CCSF begins search for next chancellor amid new challenges

‘It’s arguably the biggest single responsibility the board has,’ trustee says

Some people are concerned that University of California, San Francisco’s expansion at its Parnassus campus could cause an undesirable increase in the number of riders on Muni’s N-Judah line.<ins></ins>
Will UCSF’s $20 million pledge to SFMTA offset traffic woes?

An even more crowded N-Judah plus increased congestion ahead cause concern

From left, Natasha Dennerstein, Gar McVey-Russell, Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Jan Steckel and Miah Jeffra appear in Perfectly Queer’s fifth anniversary reading on Jan. 20.<ins> (Courtesy photo)</ins>
Perfectly Queer reading series celebrates fifth anniversary

Online event features five writers, games, prizes

(Robert Greene/Tribune News Service)
As tensions grow over vaccinations and politics, California lawmakers face threats from public

Anti-vaccine speakers hint at gun violence during routine budget hearing at state Capitol

Most Read