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It is said that Merlot, meaning “little blackbird” in Bordeaux patois, is the blackbird’s favorite grape. According to Pliny the Elder, whose name attests to wisdom, “The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to he who drinks it (first century A.D.).” Here relativism makes an unexpectedly early appearance, and I would have liked to question old Pliny about this, had he not died (rather abruptly) of asphyxiation, at Mt. Vesuvius. Something about Pliny the Elder’s words resonates with me, and so I wonder if his spirit doesn’t shudder when it overhears conversations laced with snobbery, or sees numerical values assigned to individual wines, or listens to us extol the virtues of one grape variety at the expense of another … . This varietal favoritism is particularly true where Merlot is concerned. Merlot has a forwardness and accessibility that offend those among us who have labored in their relationship with Cabernet Sauvignon, and feel, consequently, that it is beneath them to appreciate a wine that is not preambled by a tannic attack. Merlot is notably lower in tannins and higher in sugars than Cabernet, producing luscious, well-colored wines that are capable of great richness and may be enjoyed very early in their development. Simply stated, this is a tasty wine. It is this impudence that makes Merlot dubious in the eyes of those who like to let their palates do the work and their intellect process the pleasure. Oh, for a swifter route! Recently, I had the pleasure of tasting a Merlot that wanted nothing to do with my intellect. This was the 1997 Luna Merlot from California’s Napa Valley. Winemaker John Kongsgaard (of Newton fame) sources the grapes from six different vineyards, tucked away in the hillsides of the cooler southern half of Napa Valley. Kongsgaard doesn’t believe in filtering and uses indigenous yeasts for the wine. This hands-off approach, when applied to exceptional fruit, allows all the varietal characteristics to show, resulting in an intensely flavored wine — laced with vanillin oak — with a soft and velvety texture. Don’t think about it, drink it.

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