Merlot has been a much maligned grape in recent times; maybe it’s typical soft, seductive profile simply fails to resonate with a generation of wine drinkers searching for ever more edgier, sharp edged sips; or maybe it’s just a case of preconceived notions of a comforting yet uninspiring taste experience. Whatever the reason, it is high time to revisit this variety and discover exactly what makes wines from Merlot both instantly delicious and objectively great. Looking for those benchmark bottles at affordable prices can be challenging and the tip is here, as it so often is when it comes to wine buying, rewards come to those who chose to look further than the usual well-beaten path. In the case of Merlot, one of the finest of those fields afar can be found on a gently rolling Tuscan hillside where tradition, technique, soil and climate conspire to create that grape’s signature hedonistic quality with a uniquely Italian twist.
Tenuta CastelGiocondo (translation: estate of the castle in the village of Giocondo) is one of the hugely historic properties acquired in 1989 by legendary Tuscan wine producing family, the Frescobaldis. Tenuta CastelGiocondo is perhaps better known by lovers of substantial Italian reds for it’s fine and remarkably consistent Brunello di Montalcino wines – the estate was one of the very first four to start making a Brunello in the late 1800’s. Perhaps lesser known is that the pioneering Frescobaldi family also started introducing French varieties into their vineyards around the same time. This was a truly unusual occurrence in Tuscany in those days.
Lamaione represents a culmination of those efforts to create top quality wines from classic Bordeaux grapes – in this case a 100% Merlot born under the southern Tuscan sun. I feel that the slightly cooler 2013 vintage has truly benefited this wine with its signature opulent plummy, savoury, spicy fruit showing a beautiful freshness and lift from the year. The palate has a lovely weight and density of flavor with a mouth-filling, slightly flashy fruit that never overwhelms or feels overdone. There is a fine-boned, velvety textural sense which lingers through the long finish and leaves you in no doubt that this merlot is simply magic.
Drink under the stars with a Tuscan T-bone (pictured above) or a take-out order of Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu from "Ask for Luigi".
Available at selected private liquor stores. Priced around $76.00 in the BC market.