It shows a particular breed of idiocy that the American public has turned its nose up at a grape as the result of a flippant line in a clever but unremarkable movie. While we have thousands of Americans who now hate Merlot, there are still thousands more who think nothing of throwing down a couple of thousand dollars for a bottle of Petrus after a winning streak in Vegas. I’m also willing to bet that there’s a good portion of that latter crowd who don’t even know that they’re drinking Merlot.
Those of us whose wine tastes aren’t easily swayed by Hollywood (both knowledgeable and novice alike) are having a field day soaking up some great wine, while a large portion of the country runs screaming after anything called Pinot waving a fistful of dollars.
In fact, I take a small bit of private pleasure these days whenever I serve and am served a bottle of Merlot. So I was particularly pleased when at a recent lunch in New York the sommelier appeared with a grin on his face and this dusty bottle on his arm.
There’s something about mature Bordeaux that is magical. Half the time, I’m not so sure that this magic isn’t just the amazing fact that the wine has actually even survived three or four decades, let alone the way it tastes. I’ll be perfectly honest that some mature Bordeaux — stuff from the sixties (that’s as old as I’ve tried) — doesn’t really taste all that good. I should also say that no one has yet broken out an impeccably cellared 1950 Lafite for me. Most of what I’ve tasted have been wines other than the big First Growth, Premiere Grand Cru estates. And the older wine gets, the more bottle variation can mean one bottle sings, while another sours.
All this by way of saying that with these old bottles you never know what you’re going to get, and even when it doesn’t taste fantastic, as long as it isn’t clearly spoiled, it still tastes fantastic, if you get my meaning. Tasting time is truly a gift and a luxury.
Of course, sometimes these wines do taste great, and when they do, it’s hard to match them for their elegance and finesse. Yes, even when they are made from Merlot. So it was a distinct pleasure to spend an hour or two with friends over this bottle of Pomerol.
Situated on what is known as the “Right Bank” of the Gironde river that cuts through Bordeaux, Pomerol is a small, mostly flat bench of gravelly soil known for growing Merlot better than anywhere else in the world. You can judge the best site for a particular variety in a lot of ways, but there aren’t many ways in which Pomerol would come up short of the top for Merlot. Home to Chateau Petrus, quite possibly the highest priced Merlot in the world, and dozens of other famous houses (and hundreds of lesser ones) that have been making Bordeaux wines with mostly or heavily Merlot for more than a century.
Pomerol is it’s own animal in the constellation of Bordeaux. Smaller than many of the other appellations, less picturesque, and subdivided among hundreds of producers, none of whom make very much wine (in comparison to some of the First Growths on Bordeaux’s Left Bank), Pomerol is home to some of Bordeaux’s most sought after wines, including such names as Lafleur, Le Pin, La Fleur de Gay, and the aforementioned Petrus, none of whom have an official designation as First Growths (or Second Growths, for that matter) as Pomerol was never classified in the way of the Medoc or its neighbor St. Emilion.
Among Pomerol estates Chateau Gazin is often known for two things. The first, a dichotomy between status gained on the one hand and over-comparison on the other, is the fact that it is next door to Petrus. The second and related distinction is that it is managed by the same steady hand that runs Petrus and several other major Pomerol estates, Christian Moueix, whose nickname happens to be “Mr. Merlot.”
Chateau Gazin farms a single plot of about 58 acres of densely packed vines in Pomerol, and makes about 8,000 cases of wine each year under its house label, which has been around since roughly the turn of the 20th Century.
A mix of carefully hand harvested grapes (90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc from vines whose average age hovers around 35 years) is fermented in small cement vats before undergoing a second fermentation and final aging for 18 months in French oak barrels (50% new). The wine is painstakingly racked by hand to separate the lees (sediments) and is fined with egg whites.
Dark blood red in the glass, with only the hint of brick color at the edges, this wine has a gorgeously textured nose of smoked meats, cedar, and red apple skin. In the mouth it has a fine powdery quality to its texture (some of which is actual sediment) and a beautiful medley of flavors that range from leather to redcurrant to tart cherry, orange, and cloves. The finish, as is so often the case with wines like this in the peak of maturity, doesn’t so much as happen as it does emerge like a shape out of the fog of flavors, and lingers for a long while before disappearing in the mist. This is a wine that seems to certainly have the ability to last another 10 years and still give pleasure, but I’m certainly glad we had it when we did. Merlot and all.
This went beautifully with a nice rack of lamb.
Overall Score: 9.5
How Much?: approximately $166
This wine is actually available for purchase on the internet.