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Santa Margherita Versato Merlot 2000
Culinary suggestions: Pleasant accompaniment to flavorful pasta and rice dishes, roasted meats and aged cheeses.
A mountainous northern Italian region heavily influenced by German culture, Trentino-Alto Adige is actually made up of two separate but similar regions: Alto Adige and Trentino. Trentino, the southern half, is primarily Italian-speaking and largely responsible for the production of large volumes of wine made from non-native grapes. There is a significant quantity of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio produced here, and Merlot is common as well.
The rugged terrain of German-speaking Alto Adige (also referred to as Südtirol) is more focused on smaller-scale viticulture, and greater value is placed on local varieties, though international varieties are widely planted as well. Sheltered by the Alps from harsh northerly winds, many of the best vineyards are planted at extreme altitude on steep slopes to increase sunlight exposure. Dominant red varieties include the bold, herbaceous Lagrein and delicate, strawberry-kissed Schiava, in addition to some Pinot Nero. The primary white grapes are Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, as well as smaller plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, and others. These tend to be bright and refreshing with crisp acidity and just the right amount of texture. Some of the highest quality Pinot Grigio in Italy is made here.
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. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc, and on the Left Bank, 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 and Cabernet Franc.