The Mid-Winter Merlot Blues

January 24, 2008

January is a tough month. It’s cold (-45 C with the windchill yesterday morning), dark and everyone I know is broke after the holidays (including me). So it’s the best time of year to source out some well-priced comfort wines. So in the interests of pleasing both my palate and my wallet, I braved the cold to find some good, well-priced Merlot.

Lindemans Bin 40 Merlot ($12.99 @ MLCC)

I started my Merlot adventure with the Bin 40 Merlot. Lindemans “Bin” line usually delivers decent wines and good prices. I’m not crazy about all of them, but the Merlot is one of the best in the range (along with the Bin 35 Rose, which is a steal).

In the glass, it showed off rich and deep colours, with some jammy fruit on the nose. The flavours were excellent, with lots of spice and fruit (raspberries and plums) and it had a great finish. Not a lot of tannins, but the nice finish would make this a good food pairing.  And aside from being a little jammy, this was easily the best of the lot. It has the longest shelf life too, and was still very drinkable by Day 3.

I’ll stick to this one the next time I need a comfort wine on a cold winter’s day. For $12.99, it’s a great deal.

Penfolds “Rawson’s Retreat” Merlot ($13.99 @ MLCC)

My experience with Penfolds has been that they deliver good wines at a decent price. Their wines (and their prices) are usually a step up from Lindemans, although not in this case. And the Rawson’s Retreat line is their entry point into this market, making this a good wine to compare with the Bin 40.

The Rawson’s Retreat Merlot was rich and very tasty. The darkest wine of the three, it had a very alcoholic nose (which did fade with a bit of time). In the mouth, I picked up some earth, lots of plums (classic Merlot) and more tannins than I expected. A nice long finish made it a good combination with the home-made pizza I had.

My only complaints were the alcoholic nose and the fact that it had no staying power. By Day 2, it was markedly different and not nearly as good. And not to sound cheap, but I’m not sure it’s really worth a dollar more than the Bin 40.

Still though, it was very tasty and I’d happily drink it again; as long as I can find it on sale.

Wild Horse Canyon Merlot ($12.94 @ MLCC)

This wine had the most interesting concept (being a blend of BC, Washington and California wines). But in the end it was the biggest disappointment. It showed a nice deep colour in the glass with some cherries and earth on the nose. So far so good. But it was extremely light in the mouth (much lighter than I wanted). I picked up some nice cherry fruit in the mouth, but not enough to keep my attention. The finish was long enough to make me think it would pair well with some lighter dishes.

I have no proof of this, but the light taste makes me think it is mostly sourced from the Central Valley in California. For this price, I’d sooner pick up the J. Lohr Cypress Merlot, which has a lot more flavour. It’s too bad, because I’ve heard good things about the other wines in the Wild Horse Canyon line (especially their Chardonnay) and was really looking forward to this one.

Maybe I’ll give it a second chance when the weather is warmer. It seems like the kind of wine better suited to a warm day.

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