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A large and diverse wine region in northeastern Italy, the Veneto is home to a vast array of different styles of wine.
The sub-region of Valpolicella (meaning “valley of cellars” in Italian) is a series of north to south valleys and is the source of Veneto’s best red wine with the same name. Valpolicella—the wine—is juicy, spicy, tart and packed full of red cherry flavors. Corvina makes up the backbone of the blend with Rondinella, Molinara, Croatina and others playing supporting roles. Recioto and Amarone follow the same blending patterns but are made from grapes left to dry for a few months before pressing, resulting in wines that are intense, full-bodied, heady and often, quite cerebral.
Soave, based on the indigenous Garganega grape, is the famous white here—made ultra popular in the 1970s at a time when quantity was more important than quality. Today one can find great values on whites from Soave, making it a perfect choice as an everyday sipper! But the more recent local, increased focus on low yields and high quality winemaking in the original Soave zone, now called Soave Classico, gives the real gems of the area. A fine Soave Classico will exhibit a round palate full of flavors such as ripe pear, apricot, or yellow peach, have smoky and exotic aromas and a sapid, fresh, mineral-driven finish.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.