What makes a great Merlot is the winemaker’s attention to detail. When done correctly, a Merlot can be just as beautiful as any Bordeaux blend. This can be hard to find, especially in regards to commercially available Merlots. I’ve had such good experiences with Wente wine, that I was quite optimistic when I picked up their version of this varietal. And I have to say, a Wente wine will never disappoint…
I have to say, until recently I was of the, “I am not drinking Merlot” mindset. And, no, it has nothing to do with the movie (though I admittedly enjoy that movie), it was because I’ve had very poor experiences with the Merlots I find on grocery store shelves. It’s not until recently that I’ve decided to experiment with Merlots again. It actually has to do with a few winery visits where Merlot was on the menu and, with no real choice but to try it, I discovered what I thought was a bland, boring, tasteless varietal, could actually be one of the most complex and flavorsome. Put that together with the fact that I love almost all Wente I’ve found in the wine aisle, I was willing to put my Merlot fate in Wente Vineyards hands.
About the Wine: Wente Vineyards Sandstone Estate Merlot is made from 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Syrah, and 5% Petite Verdot, from vineyards along Livermore Valley. From the winemakers notes, “Each varietal was harvested and fermented separately in upright stainless steel fermenters. Rack and return, which is process of draining all of the free-run juice off the cap and then returning back over the top of the fermenter, was performed twice daily.”
After blending the varietals together, the wine was fermented in blended neutral French and American oak barrels for 20 months.
Flavor Profile: Wente Vineyards Sandstone Estate Merlot is a deep burgundy in the glass, and yet you can see right through it like a flawless gem. It emits strong initial aromas of the ripest blueberries. Secondary aromas include darker fruits, such as figs and even a bit of dried fruits, like currents. There’s also an underlying, background aroma of that kind of brambly bush — like you can smell the greenery along with the brown branches from the bushes or trees these fruits grow on.
On the palate, those blueberries immediately burst forth with a complimentary acidity that just livens the tastebuds. As those subside, the mid-palate will bring forth a bit of the darker notes — that fig, that current — along with a softening in the mouthfeel. As the flavors and textures soften, you’ll get a bit of that toasted oak, which is what will make you think of those earthy elements you sensed on the nose.
The tannins come in, ever so delicately at the very last second, adding strength to the wine and creating an overall balanced and solid finish.
Food Pairing: I encourage you to find a way to celebrate all the tastes and textures you’ll find in this wine. Play up the fruits, the earthiness, the bright acidity, the calming oak, and that bit of bite in the back from the tannins.
My perfect pairing? Smoked and grilled steak (fillet mignon for me) cooked med-rare. That smokey char will play up that toasted oak as well as those earthy elements in the wine, while the juicy interior of the meat will intensify the juice in the foretaste of the wine.
Serve your steak with something a bit lighter. My go-to side is an herb-based salad topped with fresh berries (I like blackberries or boysenberries here) and a slightly funky cheese (don’t go blue, but don’t go mild — a sharp white cheddar, havarti, even a truffled gouda). Obviously the berries will amplify those same notes in the wine, but it’s the addition of the funky cheese that will really get those fruit notes to burst on the palate as well as play homage to the earthy-ness. Get in there, get rooted, ground yourself in the vineyard that is this Bordeaux-style blend.
More Info: If you haven’t read my other Wente reviews, please do so. And, if you’re looking for more Merlot, please read my other recommendations. Like I said, I’m quite picky when it comes to Merlot, so you can trust me when I call one out as a pleasurable daily drinker.
For more information about Wente, their wines, and to purchase directly, please do visit the Wente Vineyards website. I was able to find Wente Vineyards Sandstone Estate Merlot at Safeway (Sale Price: $15 )
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