Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Merlot and Pinot Noir

It may shock you to learn that there are some wines I don't like. For starters, I've never been able to get excited about Merlot -- I think they're too sweet, too thick, and generally kind of undistinguished. From what I understand, Merlot used to be an undiscovered gem, but then it got popular and wineries started making tons of Merlots that weren't very good and by 2000 or so the quality had become so diluted that it was no longer a good bet. I understand that the more expensive ones can still be very good indeed, but I'm not about to drop $50 on a Merlot when I could have a Cab or Zinfandel instead.

Whenever I say that I don't like Merlot, the person I say it to usually nods knowingly and asks if I've seen "Sideways." For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, "Sideways" is a funny little independent comedy released in 2004 that chronicles the wine-tasting adventures of Miles, a wine snob who hates, hates, HATES Merlot. Apparently Miles's passionate ranting against Merlot sent Merlot sales plummeting; I recently read a book by a former service captain at the New York 4-star restaurant Per Se, and she mentioned that after "Sideways" they had to exile Merlot from their wine list entirely because the clientele wouldn't order it any more!

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I feel safe in denying that my dislike for Merlot is Miles-influenced. For one thing, I like the movie, but I hate Miles. Even though he's imaginary, if I liked Merlots even a little bit I think I'd drink them just to spite this whiny, lying, schlumpy man-child.

Also, while I may agree with Miles about Merlot, I've failed to develop a taste for Miles's favorite varietal: Pinot Noir. Pinots are usually described as "light reds," and they are supposed to be delicate, slightly fruity, and earthy. But almost every Pinot I've had can be described in one word: boring. Not enough fruit to be fun, not enough spice to make me sit up and take notice, they seem for the most part to be oddly timid wines. I don't hate them, but neither do I get why they're Econo Boy's favorite varietal.

Nonetheless, I do have a bargain Pinot recommendation: the 2006 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir, which usually costs around $10. Now, true Pinot devotees should take this with a grain of salt, since Pinots aren't my thing, but this Pinot has nice fruity flavors (think cherries and strawberries), it's smooth and elegant, and really lovely to drink. If more Pinots tasted like this, I'd be more excited about drinking them!

Note: I recently tried the 2007 vintage and I like the 2006 *much* better. Seldom is my palate sophisticated enough to really tell the difference between vintages, but the 2007 is too oaky and too heavy, not nearly as charming as its predecessor. You have been warned.

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