There is no wine grape more persistently maligned than merlot, but there's also no question that this underrated variety is capable of making some of the world's finest wines. Merlot is native to France's Bordeaux region and is in fact that region's dominant grape, covering nearly two thirds of the region's vineyards. However, many wine drinkers view merlot's half-sibling cabernet sauvignon as inherently superior in terms of the quality potential of its wines. Though cabernet sauvignon is certainly more intense than merlot on some key red-wine traits, such as color saturation and anti-oxidant tannins, merlot often scores higher on its pure pleasure quotient. The skins of merlot grapes are not quite as thick as those of its more famous relation, which means merlot wines feature more of the flavors of grape flesh and less of the harsher traits the come from grape peels. This becomes particularly obvious in regions that are warmer, drier, and sunnier than Bordeaux, such as the Paso Robles region of California's Central Coast, where this delightful example is made. Loaded with luscious flavors of black cherries, vanilla, and chocolate, it demonstrates clearly what the merlot grape can do so well, regardless of whether it gets its due respect.
J. Lohr "Los Osos" Merlot, Paso Robles, Calif. $14.99 (regularly $16.99; sale price through Nov. 4). PLCB Item #7338.