A Hungarian Merlot

Balatonboglár, Hungary is a resort town located roughly 90 miles southwest of Budapest on Lake Balaton.  Wikipedia says it’s also called the “town of grapes and wine” because it is the center of the Balatonboglár wine region which is one of six sub-sectors of the Balaton wine region around Lake Balaton.  While the greater Balaton wine region is best known for it’s Riesling, it clearly produces other varietal wines such as this Merlot.

Oenophilogical_StDonatusEstate_MerlotWinemaker: St. Donatus Estate (by Garamvári Vineyard)
Varietal: Merlot
Vintage: NV
Appellation: Balatonboglár, Hungary
Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

Notes: The color of the St. Donatus Merlot was quite dark.  It was medium-bodied with good acidity and almost no tannins at all.  Alcohol was at 12%.  Flavors were simple – sweet plum with touches of spice.  This wine was quite pleasant and easy to sip.  I think it’s a prime candidate for mulled wine or sangria.

Turning Leaf Merlot

OK.  I had a family gathering to attend –  a birthday party.  This would be the “extended” family which includes many people who partake in the fruit of the vine, some who do not, and some for whom it has been legal to imbibe for a very short time.  We had a reservation in the party room at a casual Italian BYOB restaurant.  Question was: what bottle should I bring to the celebration?  I thought about being the “wine guy” and really going out of my way to pull a wine that would match the food perfectly. Then I remembered that a) these were people who had already been subjected to my enthusiasm about wine and food pairing, and b) I didn’t have anything to prove because these folks all know me too well.

So, I decided to look for something that would accompany most Italian dishes reasonably well … BUT that wouldn’t be too taxing for nor offensive to anyone’s palate (or as close as I could get).  Considering there were going to be quite a few folks in attendance, it had to be fairly easy on the wallet, too.  After all, there was no doubt that the focus of the evening would not be the food and drink – it would be all about togetherness and having a good time.   With those thoughts in mind, I ended up with this inexpensive Gallo brand red.

Winemaker: Turning Leaf
Varietal: Merlot
Vintage: NV
Appellation: California
Price: $6.49

Notes:  The color of this Merlot was a medium garnet.  It’s bouquet had a pleasant figgy aroma.  Tannins were light, acidity was good, and alcohol was at 11.5%.  On the tongue I caught flavors of sweet cherry (lots of it) as well as a touch of pepper, a fig note, chlorophyll and coffee grounds as it came to a finish.  Not too bad.  And I know it wasn’t the ultimate wine to accompany the pasta and pizza we had.  But, hey, at least I didn’t get any complaints.

Gallo Family Vineyards Merlot

Not too long ago I was on a business trip to Chicago.  It was a quick trip, but an interesting one.  I’ve enjoyed some great trips to the Windy City in years past, but had no time this go-round for fun.  Unfortunately.  Because on my only night there I had to work late in my room preparing for the next day’s activities, I decided to run to the drug store across the street to see what kind of brain food (aka junk food) they might have on hand.  Much to my surprise, they had more than snacks, water and soda.  They had a very large selection of wines and spirits – yes, liquor.  Sadly, I had to keep my wits about me or my work would not have gotten done.  Thus, I grabbed a personal-sized bottle of this Gallo red – just enough to warm me yet not prevent me from accomplishing the task at hand.

Winemaker:  Gallo Family Vineyards
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  California
Price:  $5.99*

Notes:   On the nose I caught scents of wood, berries, and earth with some floral notes.  It was very light-bodied.  It even seemed watery at times.  Acidity was OK, and tannins were light.  Alcohol was at 13%.  On the palate I tasted generous amounts of wood with notes of crème de cassis.  I know it’s inexpensive, but I think there have to be better options out there – from Gallo even – within this price range.

* This is the price for a 750 ml bottle in my local area not the personal-sized mini I purchased while on travel.

Quail Oak Merlot

What is up with wines that give little or no information about their makers?  It makes me wonder.  Seriously!  In fact, I find it extremely suspicious when a winery doesn’t support their product with informative labeling or at least a modest online presence.  That pertains equally to a retailer that sells a private label but disguises it as something other than a store brand.  Seems like they’re saying, “I’m horribly embarrassed that I made this wine (ordered this wine), so I’m not going to admit to being responsible for it.”  If I think a wine producer is being cagey, I am much less likely to buy their wines no matter what they call them, how they dress them up, or how low the price.  As a result, this was my very first experience with any of the Quail Oak selections.

Winemaker:  Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway?)
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $6.99 at Safeway

Notes:   On the nose I smelled berries and musty earth.  The wine is very light-bodied with moderate acidity.  At 12.5% alcohol, the Quail Oak Merlot is definitely not a dry red.  In fact, I would call this wine sweet.  Aside from the sweetness and the lack of any structure to speak of, I found this selection to be fairly pleasant.  Flavors for me were plum, dark cherry, a bit of pepper, hints of oak and tar, as well as a dash of bitter herbs on the finish.  Personally, though, I really do prefer my Merlots a bit dryer.  It wasn’t an offensive wine.  It wasn’t a diamond hidden amongst stones, either.  I’d say it’s another good candidate for a Sangria – perhaps one that includes citrus because the sweetness of this wine will help balance the citrus.  Or maybe this would do well with some leftover spicy Chinese food – Twice Cooked Pork, General Tso’s Chicken and such.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Three Wishes Merlot

First, let me say that the Three Wishes selections provided a mystery from the outset.  Now, I love a mystery.  When I read books for personal entertainment, that’s the genre I gravitate toward.  The mystery in question here was, “Who makes the line of Three Wishes wines for Whole Foods?”  Queries on all the major internet search engines turned up nothing about the winery, until ….  I found that Three Wishes Vineyards shares the exact same address as Concannon Vineyards in Livermore, CA.  Ta da!

Winemaker:  Three Wishes Vineyards (by Concannon? for Whole Foods)
Varietal:  Merlot
Vintage:  NV
Appellation:  America
Price:  $3.29 at Whole Foods

Notes:  Starting with the appellation “America,” I listed it that way because there is no indication of grape source other than the words “American Merlot” on the back label of this wine.  In the glass this inexpensive Merlot was a medium garnet color.  It definitely had that brownish tinge around the edges like a garnet has.  On the nose I got very faint scents of berries, pepper, and a musty earthiness.  On the palate it was pretty thin.  By that I mean that it was extremely light-bodied, and the flavors weren’t very intense.  After it breathed awhile, the flavors  I found were cherry with raspberry notes, some slight hints of pepper and spice, and a cream of tartar zip of … tartness.  At 12.5% alcohol there is a bit of sweetness there to offset the tartness, but it isn’t a sweet wine in the main.  There were no tannins to speak of, and acidity was good.  Overall, I didn’t think this was a great wine.  Of course, at $3.29 a bottle I wasn’t expecting it to be a blockbuster.  It isn’t a typical Merlot – it’s lighter and a bit more tart that most.  But it’s entirely drinkable.  Actually, I feel this wine is the perfect candidate for Sangria.  So grab several bottles!  Get some fruit, etc. and enjoy it at your next patio party.  If you don’t have a Sangria Recipe, the one at this link looks pretty great.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Tisdale Merlot NV

Another cheap wine tasting brought over from Blogarythms.

Tisdale?  New to me!  Just found this at a local grocery store.  It was inexpensive and on sale – so I decided to give it a try.

Vineyard:     Tisdale
Varietal:       Merlot
Vintage:       NV
Appellation: California
Price:          $5.00

Notes:         Extremely light-bodied selection with dark red fruit flavors.  Not on my favorites list.  This archive tasting note was posted originally in April of 2010.


Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer. 

Little Roo Merlot NV

This post has proved to be one of the most often-visited posts over at Blogarhythms and was originally published on 8/6/2010.

Always on the lookout for a new inexpensive wine experience, I ran across a new [to me] Australian brand at my local grocery store.  It’s called Little Roo, and the Merlot that I picked up to sample is a non-vintage selection.  Here are my thoughts on it.

Vineyard:      Little Roo
Varietal:        Merlot
Vintage:        NV
Appellation:  Southeastern Australia
Price:           $8.99

Notes:     Simple and pleasant is how I’d describe this Merlot from Little Roo.  It had a primarily cherry fruit flavor on the palate right away and developed a nice raspberry near the finish.  There was also an interesting licorice note in the middle.  I don’t particularly like licorice, but it was light enough that it intrigued me more than anything.  If only I could travel to Australia and experience the wine in it’s native environment!  Now wouldn’t that be nice?  For now, I’ll have to stick to drinking Australian and imagining the rest.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Rex-Goliath Merlot

Originally posted 10/23/2010 at Blogarhythms.

Here is another non-vintage red from California by Rex-Goliath – their Merlot.

Vineyard:     Rex-Goliath
Varietal:       Merlot
Vintage:       NV
Appellation: California
Price:          $8.99

Notes:  Another nice medium-bodied non-vintage selection from HRM Rex-Goliath.  I found this wine packed full of cherry and raspberry flavor along with some hints of coffee near the finish.  It  has light tannins that give it some structure and will allow it to pair well with food.   At 13.5% alcohol, this is a dry wine that for many won’t taste like a very dry wine because of the fruit-forward flavors.

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.