China wine tastings | Napa Merlot magic in Beijing

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By Jim Boyce | Lots of wine regions are associated with a grape or style, like Mendoza with Malbec, Barossa with Shiraz and Bordeaux with, well, Bordeaux. People tend to associate Napa Valley with Cabernet Sauvignon, especially fruit bomb-y interpretations of that grape.

That’s what made a flight of Merlot at a recent Napa Valley Vintners event in Beijing so intriguing: a chance to taste different takes on a grape that was so forcefully denounced by Miles in the movie Sideways but that tends to please so many people. Here is my two kuai:

Twomey Merlot 2012 was soft with dark luscious fruit and extra curves courtesy of a pour of Cabernet Franc and a splash of Petit Verdot. Along with the fruit, there were light floral aromas, and black licorice, and pepper at the finish. Elegant.

(Other reviews mention aromas / flavors like hazelnut, graphite and lavender.)

Cakebread Merlot 2013 was quite a shift. For me, it had slightly meaty plus smoke, coffee and chocolate aromas—I’m thinking umami—and a body rich with ripe black fruit. Funky.

(The Quarterly Review of Wines ranked this as one of its six outstanding California Merlots.)

Silenus Merlot 2012 completed the trio. Bursting with violet aromas, this one was fruity and juicy, though with more cherry than the dark berry of Cakebread, and rounded off with a nice spiciness. Vibrant.

Being able to compare and contrast is what makes flights of wine, or whisky or beer or whatever, so much fun. And that flight made me want to try even more Merlots from that part of the planet.

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Note: I spent an afternoon touring Beijing, and trying some Chinese wines, with the Napa Valley Vintner reps. More on those wines soon.


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