Category Archives: Merlot

Chateau Haut Pougnan 2014 Bordeaux

Bordeaux AOC, France
imported by Aquitane Wine USA, LLC
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.5% ABV
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store on around 24 Feb

I believe I bought this after a couple customers recommended it.  I thought it was good but not especially remarkable.

I decanted the wine and left it alone for a couple hours.  The fruit became more accessible, showing earthy red cherry / redcurrant, darkening over time to include a little blackcurrant / blackberry.  It struck me as tasty Bordeaux, but nothing exceptional.

A number of days later, the saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle showed its fruit a little more soft and sweet, and was much more immediately pleasant, but was otherwise much the same.

The gold-colored sticker says “Concours des Grands Vins de France a Macon, Medaille D’Or, 2015.”

Château de Bensse 2012 Médoc

Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc, Bordeaux, France
50% Cabernet (presumably Sauvignon), 50% Merlot; 13.5% ABV
$12 at the Richmond, CA, store on 17 Feb

chdebensse_2012_medocThis wine had intrigued me for a few reasons — it was designated from a specific region of Bordeaux, the Médoc, not just from Bordeaux; it was imported by Max Beverage, whose previous Bordeaux I’ve tasted have been quite good; and two customers, including a Frenchman, had recommended it — but I had been deterred by the high (by GO standards) price until yesterday.

I thought it was pretty good after being decanted for about an hour, showing elegant purplish dark red cherry fruit with subtle complexity of plum, in a structure that was tight but not punishing.  It continued to improve the next couple hours, darkening and becoming only slightly more accessible.  Around three hours after opening, some of the darker purple fruit did seem to soften up a little, but along with the structure breaking some, not just relaxing.  So far, I liked it, but I wasn’t impressed it was worth $12 at the GO.  I wanted to soften it up a bit more, so instead of storing the rest in a completely filled small bottle as usual, I just put the cork back in the top.

Expat reviewed, and very much liked, the 2011 Ch. de Bensse here.  (His taste tends toward the very dry, earthy, and tannic.)  Wine Advocate rates 2011 Left Bank (which includes Médoc) as 88, and 2012 as 87, not much different.

On the second and third days, the wine was about the same as on the first two days, never really opening up very much.  I suspect I would prefer this with a few more years of age, but some may enjoy it now with a bit of air.

2013 Puydeval Red Blend, Pays D’Oc IGP

Pays D’Oc IGP, Langeudoc, France; 14% ABV
$5.99 at the Palo Alto store on November 27th

puydevalThis wine caught my eye with its attractive label and the fact that it contains a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc (which I love). The blend breakdown is 58% Cab Franc, 28% Syrah, and 14% Merlot, from vineyards in the cooler regions of the Languedoc. The wine is aged 10 months in oak (90% French, 10% American) and fermented with native yeasts. The tech sheet for the wine can be found here.

A brief web search showed this wine has a pretty loyal following and routinely scores in the high 80’s to low 90’s from major wine publications so I was excited to try it. The wine pours an opaque, deep red, and on the nose I got some blackberry and plum as well as some barrel spice and just a hint of savoriness (I’m guessing from the Syrah). There was definitely some heat as well, but that blew off after about 30 minutes.

On the palate I got dark red fruit with absolutely no vegetal notes that can be so prevalent in Cab Franc. Definitely a fruit forward wine, more in a new world style, but still with some pleasant earthiness to keep it rooted in France. Well integrated oak and pleasantly drying tannins with enough acidity and lift to keep it fresh. It shows it’s stuff best after about an hour and a half, and was fantastic with both a beef stew the first night and hearty minestrone the second night. A repeat buy and a thumbs up for me.

[ed. note: Please welcome frequent commenter DavidLikesWine to the front page.]

Chateau Grand Marchand 2012 Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France; 13% ABV
$7 at the Richmond, CA, store on 24 Oct

chgrandmarchand_2012_bordeauxI thought this wine looked promising because it’s a few years old now, older than most Bordeaux we get, and the “88 points” sticker from the Wine Enthusiast.  (I’ve liked their online tasting notes.)  Indeed, I think this is pretty good for the price.

I thought the wine needed 1:40 of air in a decanter to relax and show its fruit, starting with a fairly simple earthy red cherry.  It continued to develop nicely until we finished off the first ¾ of the bottle, about 3 hours after opening.  Then, it showed complex dark fruits of ripe plum, cherry, mulberry / blackberry, purple grape, with typical Bordeaux brown earthiness, in a lighter medium body.

The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle still needed a bit of air, slowly developing along a similar path as the first part of the bottle, although the fruit didn’t seem to be as forthcoming.  I didn’t really give that glass long enough to air, but it did at least show that the wine will be fine the next day.

Thomas Halby 2008 Meritage

Napa Valley, CA
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% ABV
$8 at the Richmond, CA, store on 21 October

thomashalby_2008_meritageThis wine looked interesting, but I was worried by the notes that were printed on the large price tag for this wine.  They mentioned “sweet oak,” which I often dislike.  My concern was deepened by Seedboy’s calling this wine an “oaky mess.”  However, GLPease, in person, said it was “very nice,” so I thought I’d try one and weigh in.  Well, I kind of agree with both of them.  🙂

The wine’s fruit flavors are lovely and elegant — dark red / blue / purple cherry, slight blackberry, with a little earthy / raisiny aged complexity — but they are unfortunately rather light compared to the oak, which is strongly woody and drying on the finish.  Although I am a little critical here, it has been selling very well for an $8 wine at the GO, so take this with a grain of salt (as usual, I guess).

The next day (saved in single-glass, screw-cap bottle), the fruit and oak were better integrated, but the wine had overall degraded somewhat.  The fruit had become more tangy, showing dark plum / boysenberry, as well as some prune / maybe dark chocolate, with a very slight spoiled-fruit aspect, and still possessing a less pronounced but noticeably drying, woody finish.  Overall, I thought this was an interesting and reasonably tasty wine, but not one about which I’m particularly excited..

Kest 2011 Reserve “4 Cepages'”

Barossa, Australia
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot; 13% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 25 July

KestReserve_2011I thought this wine, a Bordeaux-style blend from a good wine region of Australia, looked very interesting.  I decanted this wine off a small amount of sediment.  I drank the dregs to get an idea of what the wine would be like, and it seemed highly promising: a huge nose and flavor of eucalpytus / menthol and dark purple plum.  Unfortunately, and to my surprise, the rest of the wine did not deliver.

I thought it needed 2 – 2.5 hours in a decanter to fully air.  The nose was still as strongly dominated by eucalyptus, with the fruit in the background.  On the palate, the wine is quite light-bodied for these varietals, tasting of said plum, dark cherry, maybe cranberry, and mildly spiced earth / eucalyptus wood.  The weakness of the fruit and a slight balsamic vinegar character to the acid makes me think this wine is past its prime, and I’m not sure how strong that prime was.  Robert Parker’s vintage ratings chart (linked to near the bottom of the links on the right side of the page) lists 2011 as a particularly bad year in Barossa (79 / 100).

The saved single-glass, screwcap bottle was, to my surprise, not awful.  It still needed some air to show the same nice eucalyptus wood aromatics, with the fruit a definite second.  On the palate, the tasty wood and acid were indeed the main things; the fruit showed nice Bordeaux-blend flavors (red and purplish cherry, red currant), but was really quite weak.  I had expected to go Thumbs Down on this, but the second day performance raises it to Drinkable, even if I’m still not that enthusiastic about it.

Spellwine non-vintage “Spellonu” red blend

34% Merlot, 34% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon; California; 14.8% ABV
Bottled and cellared by Spelletich Cellars
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 20 July

SpellWine_red_1After the Spelletich Pinot was pretty good, I thought I’d try their basic red blend for a change of pace.  Also, I was kind of stunned by the label.  🙂

The wine seemed promising but a little rough at first pour, and as usual, I liked it better after 30 minutes of air.  Fully aired after 60 minutes, it shows softer, ripe, California fruit of medium to darker red / purplish cherry with a hint of blueberry / blackberry, good balancing tangy acid, and complexities of raisin, wood, and earth.  This pleasant, easy-drinking red seems like a pretty good value.


SpellWine_red_2A few days later, the saved, single-glass, screwcap bottle was only slightly less good.  It still needed a little air, and was then at least as good as the first night, but then became good but slightly more acid than I’d prefer.  Anyway, for a non-vintage red blend at a low price, it’s pretty good.

Chateau Julien 2014 Merlot

Monterey County, CA; 13.5% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 15 June

ChateauJulien_2014_MerlotA customer said that this wine was likely being cleared out because the Chateau Julien winery had been sold and the old stuff was being cleared out.  (This is apparently true.)  So I thought this might be a good deal, and indeed, I think it’s quite good for the price.  The only drawback is that the wine is a bit young still.

With my first bottle, I thought it was okay after a couple hours’ air, but just showing light red cherry fruit with hints of more buried underneath.  The second half was better, but still not showing that much.

So I got a second bottle.  On the first night, I just opened it, poured out a little, and stopped the cork back in.  The next day, after a little more air, the wine was quite tasty: red cherry / raspberry, slight amount of cheap oak but not too bad, some blackcurrant / blackberry, slight savory quality (wood, caramel / prune, bacon?), tart red raspberry acid.  It’s not the most powerful wine, but nicely flavored and elegant for $5.  It should easily hold on, and almost certainly improve, for a few more years.  Highly drinkable.

Blackbird Vineyards 2013 Arriviste rosé

Napa Valley, CA
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc; 14.1% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 8 June

Blackbird_2013_ArrivisteI had been intrigued by this rosé for a while since Blackbird’s top-end reds go for over $100.  This is a well-made and tasty enough rosé, but I’m only moderately enthused about it.  Perhaps that’s because it’s a couple years older than the current release, or maybe it’s just as Seedboy noted, “These varieties are not my favorites for rosé.”  (Full comment: Its color is gorgeous. Dry in the mouth, red fruit and some herbal qualities, and nothing negative. These varieties are not my favorites for rose.)

The wine is at first a little reserved, but opens up with a little time in the fridge to show elegantly presented flavors of quince jelly (wine is very dry), tangerine / orange, and cherry / red berry, with some minerality on the finish.  It’s pretty tasty, but lacks a feeling of freshness and some of the delicate nuance I prefer in a rosé.

The next day, the wine is very much the same and still quite tasty, so there seems to be little danger of its falling apart soon.

Amy 2014 Merlot

Stellenbosch, South Africa; 13.5% ABV
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 22 March

Amy_2014_MerlotAlthough I’m not much of a Merlot drinker, the description on the back label sounded pretty good, so I got a bottle during the sale.

I felt this wine needed 1.5 – 2 hours’ air to show dark red cherry, blackberry, red / purple plum, rusty earth, green bell pepper, and black pepper, with a drying, tannic finish.  The fruit has some soft ripeness to it, but there is also plenty of tangy acid.  The wine seems a little young, but is otherwise nicely elegant and well-made.  Fans of the savory style of South African wines should find a lot to like here, especially if you are more of a Merlot drinker.

The saved single-glass, screwcap bottle of this wine was really good.  The flavors overall are much the same, but more forward and better integrated, and the savory, rusty earth quality had a smokiness that’s delicious.  The finish is still a bit tannic.  In light of this second-day performance, you don’t even need to be much of a Merlot drinker to like this wine.