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Blackbirds, and the link with the popular merlot grape
GLANCING out from the dining room window, I caught sight of a blackbird struggling to take off, as it had so much weight of nesting material in its beak. It made me wonder if blackbirds, that are prone to feasting on the ripe grapes in vineyards, eat so much that they can't get airborne.
Interestingly, merlot means young blackbird in the French vernacular - although it is not known if this is because of the feathered ones' love for the varietal or because of the almost black skin of the merlot berries. Perhaps the grape's plump, juicy, thin-skinned character accounts for its popularity with the blackbirds, and a large number of red wine drinkers for that matter.
Merlot, or merlot noir, often plays a cameo role alongside Bordeaux's cabernet sauvignon-driven wines, the fruity, less tannic character of the merlot ironing out the harder edges of the cabernet. But it is the major component in the famed wines of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, as well as the Côtes de Castillon appellation which appears on the labels of my first two recommendations.
I liked the approachable and affordable Château Puyanché 2004, with its smooth tannins and lightly spiced plum and raspberry fruit. In a very similar style is the equally reasonably priced, soft, fruity Château Bois Joly 2006, which is new to the shelves at Morrisons.
If the New World is more to your taste, then Bellingham Merlot Malbec 2005, from South Africa, would be a good choice. It has a little more weight and punch from the small proportion of malbec used in the blend. With tobacco aromas, a soft mouth-feel, flavours of berry and damson fruit, it has some cedarwood notes from maturation in oak.
New Zealand's Gimblett Gravels, in the Hawke's Bay region, produces some stunning red wines to challenge those from Bordeaux. Villa Maria, an outfit which is no stranger to this column, has its Gimblett Gravels Reserve Merlot 2005 at Waitrose. It is a classy wine, concentrated, complex and balanced, with bramble fruit, cassis, violet, chocolate and toasty oak flavours.
Please note that the prices given are pre-budget.
- Château Puyanché 2004, Côtes de Castillon, £5.99 online from www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk 16/20
- Château Bois Joly 2006, Côtes de Castillon, £5.49 at Morrisons 16/20
- Bellingham Merlot Malbec 2005, £7.99 at Tesco and the Co-op 17/20
- Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Reserve Merlot 2005, £15.99 at Waitrose 17/20