Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are ten years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot. Like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape “berries”, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich Red Color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate to lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the heft rankings.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes – Merlot is the one red wine that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…missjane@prodigy.net

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chardonnay

Well, the Bubbly Professor cannot believe she has not yet published a cheat sheet on Chardonnay…but these things do happen.  In case you are a fan of wine grape cheat sheets, here’s the one you might have been waiting for…

Chardonnay Salmon PastaThe Soundbyte:  Chardonnay may very well be the world’s most widely recognized grape variety.  It was very likely the first wine you ever heard of, and what you will most likely be served if you order a glass of “white wine” at a cocktail party.  The grape itself is quite neutral, but can be transformed via wine making magic into an oak-infused butter bomb, a crisp, citrus-and-mineral balancing act, or even a front porch-chugging box wine.  There’s a lot to be said about the chameleon known as Chardonnay!   

Typical Attributes of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Creamy, complex, high alcohol and lush flavors.
  • The fruity aromas wary widely depending on the climate.
  • The grape itself can be called “delicate” in aroma and flavors, but Chardonnay is very susceptible to the influence of wine making, and can be laden with aromas and flavors of oak, butter, cream, yeast, and vanilla, among others, through wine-making processes.  Whether or not these are “good for the wine” is a matter of personal opinion and much debate.
  • Attributes of a European “Chablis Style” Chardonnay: Crisp, Medium-bodied, terroir-driven, fruity, and mineral
  • Attributes of a New World, “California Style” Chardonnay:  Full-bodied, highly alcoholic, likely oak-aged, and “buttery”
  • Chardonnay is also used in Sparkling wines, including Champagne and Franciacorta.

Typical Aromas of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Green Apple, Red Apple, Baked Apple, Pear, Peach, Apricot, Pineapple and Other Tropical Fruits, Citrus:  Lemon, Lime, Orange
  • Caramel: Honey, Butterscotch, Caramel, Brown Sugar
  • Nutty: Hazelnut, Toasted Hazelnut, Walnut
  • Yeast-Derived: Toast, Baked Bread, Oatmeal, Popcorn
  • Butter (from malo-lactic fermentation…of course!)
  • Mineral: Flint, Wet Stone, Wet Sand
  • Oak-Derived: Vanilla, Coconut, Sweet Wood, Oak, Smoke, Toast, Tar

Chardonnay HarvestWhere Chardonnay is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France, especially the Côte de Beaune and Chablis
  • The Champagne Region of France
  • Other regions of France, such as Alsace (where it is only allowed to be used in sparkling wines) and the Languedoc-Roussillon
  • California, where it is grown in many diverse regions and produces a wide range of styles
  • Oregon, where it shines in both still wines and sparklers.
  • Australia, where it is a leading white wine grape
  • New Zealand, where it is the #2 white wine grape after Sauvignon Blanc
  • The cooler regions of Chile
  • Franciacorta and other regions in Italy
  • Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia
  • And…almost anywhere wine is grown!

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Crab Cakes, Lobster, Shrimp dripping with butter and garlic…
  • Chicken, Turkey, Game Hen, Duck
  • Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken
  • Veal, Pork…Beef.  (About that beef…be careful with the preparation. As certainly as the heavier bodied white wines, including Chardonnay, can pair with beef, that does not mean that it is a good substitute for red wine in every case.   Keep your dishes plain and simple, seasoned with herbs, mushrooms, or grilled onions.  Unless you want to hurt someone, avoid Texas Chainsaw Barbeque Sauce and other condiments that are over-the-top rich and heavy in flavor, texture, sweetness, or spiciness. Trust me on this one.)

 Roasted Chicken for ChardonnayFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Tarragon, Basil,  Thyme, Oregano and other fresh herbs
  • Soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert (especially good with unoaked versions)
  • Semi-firm cheeses such as Havarti, Monterey Jack, Meunster and Gouda. Smoked      versions of Gouda are especially good.
  • Firm cheese such as Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyère, Manchego, and Jarlsberg
  • Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Allspice (but resist the temptation to go sweet…think savory…savory…savory…)
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans, Coconut (savory…savory…savory…)
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil
  • Bacon, Ham, and other cured pork products
  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard (think about it…where is the town of Dijon?  hmmmm….)

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net