According to Merriam Webster, a dark horse is a “little known competitor that makes an unexpectedly good showing.” Interesting how the idea of a dark horse has been inspiration for artists (and politicians) for … well, a long time.
Winemaker: Dark Horse
Notes: In the bouquet this Dark Horse presented jammy dark fruit, cedar, and damp loam. At 13.5% alcohol, it was medium-bodied with moderate tannins. Acidity was good as well. On the palate I found dark berries and plum with touches of cinnamon and molasses. Of course it wasn’t as sweet as molasses. I thought this Merlot might be good served with game fowl, but it was fine to sip alone.
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.
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.
Here’s an interesting fact: according to Wikipedia -and who doesn’t rely on Wikipedia these days – Merlot is the third most-grown grape varietal globally. Take that! Miles Raymond (from the movie Sideways).
Winemaker: Alexander & Fitch
Appellation: Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
Price: $6.99 at Trader Joe’s
Notes: Dark burgundy in the glass, this A&F Merlot exhibited earth, moss and berries in the bouquet. Medium-bodied and with good acidity, it has what I would call “medium-ish” tannins. Flavors I detected included earth, vanilla, balsamic vinegar (without the vinegar), cherries, and bitters. Another solid performer from the inexpensive selections at Trader Joe’s.
I picked this Merlot up on a very recent visit to my neighborhood Trader Joe’s. Sometimes …
Other times “whatcha see” is an illusion, and what lies in store can be either a horrible shock or a pleasant surprise. Personally, I like pleasant surprises, and this wine turned out to be one of those.
Winemaker: Trader Joe’s
Wine: Grower’s Reserve Merlot
Price: $4.99 at Trader Joe’s
Notes: A medium-bodied red with good acidity and medium-plus tannins, this inexpensive Merlot had a definite purplish hue which brought to mind big, juicy, ripe plums. My eyes, however, deceived me. What I found in the bouquet was a mix of cedar, earth and barnyard with sweet floral notes. On the tongue it had an almost chalky texture with cola, blackberry, and tea leaf along with some sweet cherry that blossomed after oxidation. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a sweet wine: alcohol is at 13.2%. Anyway, I liked it. It’s cheap, and it’s competent – even interesting – as inexpensive wines go. House red for me? It’s a possibility.
Accustomed to seeing flashing red and white lights in, around, and coming out of our local fire station, last June I was treated to an entirely different kind of light show. I was walking by just before dusk and noticed that the front yard was covered with flashing yellow dots. Fireflies! It was an amazing sight. There must have been scores of them in a little, tiny yard. And even more in the field behind the fire station.
Unfortunately, the camera on my phone was not capable of capturing the full effect. I took copious amounts of pictures, many of which have no sign of firefly showmanship at all. I just couldn’t get them to synchronize. The photo below has the most firefly flashes I was able to catch at one time – 6. Ha! Even so, those little fireflies created a definite excitement not only for me but for all the passersby that evening (especially the young kids). I wasn’t the only one who stopped to enjoy the show.
Perhaps it’s that sense of wonderment and excitement that the artwork on the Firefly Ridge label seeks to tap into. It’s a great label. Certainly a lot more romantic and idealized than fireflies against smudged concrete block and drain spouts!
Winemaker: Firefly Ridge
Appellation: Central Coast, California
Notes: Dark red in color, this California Merlot had a subtle bouquet of berries and cola. A medium-bodied wine, acidity seemed fine and tannins were light. On the other hand, I felt this was (for lack of a better term) clunky on the palate. I thought the flavors of berries, pepper, rubber and oak were just not well integrated. All the better then, that I was able to grab this on discount at $5.99.
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.
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.
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal for work. I have been to Montreal previously for fun – a long weekend in the summer – so I was looking forward to a return visit. Until, that is, I looked at my schedule for my time there. First, they had me booked into a hotel at the airport (I could have walked). The meetings I was part of were also at the airport hotel. And they had me so tight time-wise that I literally couldn’t leave the property. It was a work trip, and that’s exactly what I did the entire time I was there. One bright spot was that I got to pull out some of my college French and put it to use. It’s been a few years, but I managed to get some appreciative nods and smiles from attendees when I opened my portion of the meetings with a sentence or two in French. After all the hustle and bustle of the meetings, etc., I finally had a moment to relax – in the airport terminal waiting for my return flight. Ha!
photo by FRED
Finding a restaurant called Houston Bar & Grill just steps from the gate, I sat down for a bite and a swig. I chose their Classic Burger and a glass of wine. Since I was in Canada, I asked for a domestic offering. When in Rome and all ….
Notes: I thought this was surprisingly light-bodied. At first sip it seemed quite peppery with a fruit core of cherry, hints of cassis, some tobacco, and spice notes lingering on the finish. Funny thing was that as the wine breathed, the flavors subsided significantly. They were still there but weren’t nearly as present on the palate. This was my first glass of Canadian wine, so I’ll have to do some more sipping and exploring. Don’t expect another work trip north again any time soon. Next time, though, I’ll try to wrest a few more moments from the schedule for fun and more Canadian vin.