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Vichon Merlot 1998
An extensive appellation producing a diverse selection of good-quality and value-priced wines, Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the world’s largest wine-producing region, spanning the Mediterranean coast from the Spanish border to Rhône. Languedoc forms the eastern half of the larger appellation, while Roussillon is in the west; the two actually have quite distinct personalities but are typically grouped together. Languedoc’s terrain is generally flat coastal plains, with a warm Mediterranean climate and a frequent risk of drought. Roussillon, on the other hand, is defined by the rugged Pyrenees mountains and near-constant sunshine.
Virtually every style of wine is made in this expansive region. Dry wines are often blends, and varietal choice is strongly influenced by the neighboring Rhône Valley. For reds and rosés, the primary grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. White varieties include Grenache Blanc, Muscat, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino, Maccabéo, Clairette, Piquepoul and Bourbelenc.
International varieties are also planted in large numbers here, in particular Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Roussillon, excellent sweet wines are made from Muscat and Grenache in Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury. The key region for sparkling wines here is Limoux, where Blanquette de Limoux is believed to have been the first sparkling wine made in France, even before Champagne. Crémant de Limoux is produced in a more modern style.
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.