Dom Couron Merlot 18
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Sixteen years ago, Merlot fell victim to an inadvertent smear campaign. A single line in a movie ignited a powerful cultural backlash that caused Merlot sales to plummet. Almost overnight, hundreds of years of love and respect for the noble grape turned to aversion and disdain. The movie was "Sideways" and the line spoken by Miles, the fanatical Pinot Noir aficionado -- "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving," he blurts, following with "I am not drinking any *expletive* Merlot." Shortly after that, sales of Merlot dwindled, and the price of Pinot Noir skyrocketed.
Was "Sideways" the only reason Merlot suffered such an injustice? Well, probably not. In a lot of respects, Merlot suffered from its own success. During the 90s, Merlot enjoyed immense popularity thanks to its easy-drinking quality and affordable price tag. The relative ease of production in vineyard and winery led to rampant overproduction resulting in a market flooded with a ton of simple, mediocre wine.
I find it especially interesting that it's entirely possible "Sideways" may have saved Merlot. John Williams, Napa winemaker and Frog's Leap Cellars owner, has often been quoted over the years with remarks lending credence to this idea. He believes much of the poor quality Merlot disappeared from the market when vineyards were ripped out post-"Sideways" to replant with the newest trendy grape.
In stark contrast, over the last 15 years in France, Merlot hasn't missed a beat-- never suffering the slightest whiff of unpopularity. Merlot has been grown throughout France for hundreds of years, and you'll find it blended into some of the country's most expensive and prestigious wines. In addition to a starring role in Bordeaux, Merlot is present in a vast range of everyday wines. Today's insider deal is a perfect example of why you need to welcome back Merlot!
The Dorthe family owns and runs Domaine de Couron, located in the tiny village of Saint-Marcel-d'Ardèche. The area is dripping in history, and quite often, the family finds artifacts in their vineyards that date back to Roman times. The property is lovingly and sustainably farmed with minimal intervention in the vineyard and winery.
The Ardèche is a little more than an hour's drive from the Mediterranean coast, and this proximity produces mild winters, long, hot summers. Mistral's cooling influence, the seemingly ever-present, northwesterly wind that persists through the region, tempers the summer heat and contributes to the wines' fresh and lifted quality. The area is home to Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, and Viognier, and surprisingly, close to 50% of the region is planted with Chardonnay.
In the glass, this medium-bodied red offers notes of red berries and herbs on the nose leading to a palate that's all about velvety cherry and dark berries. There's a nice beam of earthy minerality that keeps the wine super clean and fresh on the palate. The keyword here is fresh. This wine has beautiful lift and brightness, perfect to balance out the velvety smoothness of the fruit. While far from a lollipop, this wine has plenty of plush, soft fruit, allowing enjoyment with or without a meal.
The sky's the limit for pairing this wine. It's lifted enough for roasted chicken, and it's rich enough to hang with a steak or a roast. This is perfect for keeping on hand to enjoy with casual meals or just an afternoon glass of red on the deck or patio!
I can't think of another French Merlot at this price that I can recommend this highly. It clicks all of the check-boxes -- great price/value, well made, sustainably farmed, cleanly vinified, small family-owned property, and incredibly yummy.
So, go ahead and enjoy a Welcome Back to Merlot!