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For the Love of Merlot

Robert Whitley on

October is merlot month. Once upon a time, the mere thought of a month dedicated to merlot would have inspired smirks all around. The hit movie "Sideways" poked fun at merlot drinkers, and for years afterward, merlot producers wrestled with the image of merlot as a mediocre wine.

That was never the case, of course. The most sought-after wine in the world, Chateau Petrus from the Pomerol district of Bordeaux, France, is a merlot. And merlot is the money grape throughout the Right Bank of Bordeaux, the most prominent wine-growing areas being Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. Merlot thrives in the cool clay soils of the Right Bank, whereas cabernet sauvignon struggles to ripen there most years.

Many of the wines produced there are legendary, such as the long-lived Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Ausone, Chateau Angelus and Chateau Figeac. The finest fetch eye-popping prices.

But Bordeaux isn't the only wine-growing region that is kind to merlot. Italy's Tuscan region has embraced merlot, and it frequently pops up blended with sangiovese in Chianti, and with cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese in the so-called Super Tuscan red blends.

Washington can also claim merlot as an important grape variety, probably more so than cabernet sauvignon.

And California's finest merlot, most of which comes from the Napa Valley, can be compared favorably to the great wines of the Bordeaux Right Bank. Duckhorn Vineyards built a vast empire around merlot. Its Napa Valley neighbor Beringer Vineyards has long made a sensational merlot from the Bancroft Ranch on Howell Mountain.

Chappellet, while renowned for its cabernet sauvignon, has a 30-year track record of outstanding merlot. More recently, Nickel & Nickel has produced stunning merlot from its Harris Vineyard.

These are some of the world's greatest red wines. So go ahead and celebrate merlot month. There is no shame in enjoying a nice glass.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

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