Spring lamb and spring vegetables – clean and simple tastes without enhancement or cloaking sauces. This seems to cry out for a equally uncomplicated wine, though one powerful enough to cope with lamb. Well, lamb goes with clarets and many clarets are based on Merlot, some are 100% Merlot, so why not a varietal from elsewhere?
Pure varietals, which were first strongly marketed by New Worldwinemakers, are a good way of getting to know the character of individual grapes before diving into the complexities of blends from Bordeaux and the Rhone. Merlot is one of the two great Bordeaux grapes, rather fruitier and earlier to mature than its rival Cabernet Sauvignon. However the character of New World Merlots, especially the cheap ones can be very different from even the ‘easiest’ Merlot-based claret.
Dona Paulina Merlot 2010 from the Central Valley of Chile via the Wine Society is only £4.95. It is 13.5% alcohol and claims “.. a rounded palate with soft tannins and berry fruit flavours” and not much else. The WS just says ‘ soft and plummy Chilean Merlot’. Neither gives food recommendations.
Lascar Merlot 2010 also fromCentral Valley and the Wine Society is again 13.5% alcohol and again £4.95. It claims to be ‘… smooth rich and well balanced with berry and cocoa flavours framed by a sturdy structure – a real wine-drinker’s merlot. It is perfect with pizza, pasta or even a good steak.” Not terribly ambitious. The WS says ‘This is a relatively sophisticated wine with a soft and rich palate.’
We found both of these to be too sweet, too jammy and too fuzzy. We Preferred the Dona Paulina which had a little less jam and fuzz and a little more tannin, but neither was impressive. Actually we have been drinking a straightforward French varietal Cite de Carcassonne Beaulieu Merlot Vin de Pays ever since it was recommended by Jancis Robinson years ago. It can be found at Sainsbury’s for just £4.49 and its suits us better; less sweet, less artificial concentration and more tannin – just better with food.