(For all the wines I've tried in 2016, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this entry, or simply "wine" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)
So the rainbow of wine tastings here in 2016 continue apace; working my way since New Year's from the heaviest to lightest of twenty famous grape types, I've now tried Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chianti, which means this week it's finally time for Merlot! As most people know, Merlot has been far and away the most popular type of red wine for the last several decades, and for good reason; it features the bold colors and tastes of wines much darker than it, but delivers a much smoother and less tannic taste (due to the grapes being lighter-skinned than other deep red grapes, which then ripen and are picked earlier in the year). It goes with just about every type of food you can imagine, can grow in pretty much any region of the world, and is essentially the wine most people turn to when asked to bring a bottle of red to a dinner party.
Since there's no one particular region particularly well-known for Merlot, I decided to go with a Washington State winery today, Charles Smith Wines which has a fascinating history. (The owner, who seems to be around the same age as me, spent a decade as a rock-band manager in Europe in his youth; then after moving to Seattle in the '90s and opening a wine store there, he got the bug to start making his own, eventually winning accolades from a whole series of industry publications.) Like many "New World" wines, this is known by a cute brand name ("The Velvet Devil") instead of by its grape type, with a sharp little label designed by award-winning Danish graphic designer Rikke Korff.
“The Velvet Devil” Merlot, 2013
Columbia Valley, Washington
Wine Advocate rating: 87
Look: A deep and bright purple that looks almost identical to the darker reds I tried earlier this year; apparently this is a hallmark of Washington State Merlot, with wine from other areas having not quite as deep a color.
Smell: Significantly less intense than the darker reds I've so far tried this year, a delicate aroma with a hint of sourness.
Taste: A smooth and soft taste like the Pinot Noir I tried a few weeks ago, but with more of a bite than it, containing a strong flavor of such “semi-sweet sweet” fruits as cherries and with just a hint of oak. With almost no taste of tannins at all, and with lots of acid that make the lips tingle, this goes down as easily as a typical glass of white, making it easy to see why this is the red wine of choice for people who don't normally enjoy red wine.