What Do Merlots Taste Like?

If you’re looking for a fabulous wine to give your friends and family this Christmas, you might want to think about Merlot.

Popular red

We use the term ‘Merlot’ to refer to red wines that are made with Merlot grapes. It’s one of the most popular red wine varietals in the world, and one of the primary grapes used to make Bordeaux wine. Vintages from the French region of Bordeaux have a reputation for excellence – if you buy the Chateau Petrus 2001 from the Ideal Wine Company, you’ll soon see why.

Chameleon of wines

According to Wine Folly, the primary taste characteristics of Bordeaux include black cherry, raspberry, plum, graphite, cedar, tobacco, vanilla, and clove. Merlot is the chameleon of wines; the taste of a Merlot vintage depends entirely on where the grapes were grown.

If the grapes were cultivated in a cool climate, like Bordeaux, the finished product will be structured, contain a high tannin count, and boast earthy tones such as tar and tobacco. However if the grapes were grown in a warmer climate, like California, the final Merlot will be fruitier and contain fewer tannins.

Pairing with food

The versatile nature of Merlot means that you can pair it with a range of dishes. It works fantastically well with chicken and other light meats, as well as lightly spiced dark meats. The lack of acidity and medium-tannin count of most Merlots really compliment roast duck and beef bourguignon.

But Merlot varietals don’t go with every dish. We’d advise you to avoid teaming a Merlot vintage with a fish dish, or with a meal that includes leafy greens. You should also never pair it with spicy foods, as they tend to overwhelm a Merlot’s delicate balance of nuanced flavours.

Christmas wine

Therefore Merlot is the perfect wine to give your friends and family Christmas. The subtle mix of flavours that you’ll find in your typical Merlot makes it the perfect varietal to pair with holiday season staples such as turkey, roast duck, and roast beef!

Which Wines Need to Breathe?

If you leave a wine to breathe you could improve its quality, but there are some wines you should drink the minute you open them up. This is why Ideal Wine Company has decided to ask; which wines need to breathe?

Benefits of aeration

When we say that we’re letting a wine “breathe,” we’re not saying that we’re letting it breath the same way a human being does. Rather, we’re saying that we’ve opened its cork and exposed it to the air in a process called ‘aeration.’

Conventional wisdom holds that aerating a wine makes it taste better, and the people who first came up with this theory had a point. When some wines are exposed to oxygen, they release the array of flavours and aromas that are locked within their depths, allowing them to become more “expressive.”

Importance of tannins

This is because some wines contain ‘tannins.’ A tannin is a naturally occurring polyphenol found in grape skin and wood. It lends a bitter, acidic character to wine, that can make your favourite tipple taste far too harsh if you drink it after you’ve just opened the bottle.

Tannins soften when they’re exposed to air, and this is the reason we’re talking about them. It means that tannin-rich wines such as hearty reds, especially younger bottles such as the Two Hands Deer in Headlights 2004, which you can buy from the Ideal Wine Company, need to be allowed to breathe.

In contrast, you don’t need to let white wines and Champagnes breathe before serving. You definitely shouldn’t allow Champagnes to breathe because they’ll go flat, and no one likes flat bubbly. However, if a white wine has been aged for a significant amount of time in a wooden barrel it may contain tannins which means it should be aerated before it’s served.

Decanting

However, if you open up a bottle of red and just leave it to aerate you’re not really doing it right. This is because the bottle of the neck is narrow, so you only expose the wine to a surface area that’s roughly the size of a penny, meaning that the vintage won’t receive the air it needs to breathe.

If you want to maximise your vintage’s ability to breathe, you need to pour it into a decanter. This allows your red to take a deep breath, and gives it the time it needs to filter out the sediment that can build up as a result of the wine making process. This is why you really need to learn how to use a decanter.

Rule of thumb

Take this as a rule of thumb. If you’ve decided to buy a Krug 1988 from the Ideal Wine Company, whatever you do, don’t let it breathe. However, if you’ve decided to purchase a Hermitage La Chapelle 1985, you should let it aerate, as red wines need to be allowed to breathe before they’re served.

What’s the Difference Between Old and New World Wines?

If you want to cultivate a deep understanding of wine, there are certain terms you need to learn about first. With this in mind, the Ideal Wine Company asks; what’s the difference between old and new world wines?

History of wine making

Human societies have been making wine for thousands of years. The practise became particularly popular after the advent of Christianity, due to the role wine plays as a metaphor for the blood of Jesus Christ in the Abrahamic religion’s Mass ceremony.

This meant that the practise of wine growing became commonplace throughout the Christian world. When the countries of Christendom started colonising the lands of the new world, such as the Americas, from the 15th century onwards, they brought wine making with them. This allowed countries such as the USA, Argentina and Chile to develop robust wine-making traditions, which continue to this very day.

A question of location

The reason that the Ideal Wine Company has decided to give you a history lesson, is that the difference between “old world wine” and “new world wine” is one of location. It basically means that old world wines were made in European countries such as France and Spain, whilst new world wines were made in the lands discovered by the European colonisers, such as California.

This is the reason that some wine labels inform you of the location of their origin. You can use this as an indicator of what to expect from the vintage. According to Wine Spectator, “the climates of new world wine regions are often warmer, which tends to result in riper, more alcoholic, full-bodied and fruit-centred wines.” In contrast, “old world wines tend to be lighter-bodied, exhibiting more herb, earth, mineral and floral components.”

Tradition vs. modernisation

Location isn’t the only reason you need to know the difference between old world wine and new world wine. It’s also a question of production methods. The countries of the “old world” have been making your favourite tipple for so long, that they have developed time-tested methods and techniques which they’re loathe to abandon.

The perfect example is Champagne; producers of the luxury tipple are legally bound to follow certain guidelines, meaning they’ve been making Champagne the same way for centuries. Meanwhile, the countries of the “new world” are less bound by traditions, which means that they’re far more open to using technology and science to  improve their wine production methods.

Sample old and new world wines

Now you’ve read this article, why don’t you try what you learned out for yourself? If you buy a La Grande Annee Bollinger 1995 from the Ideal Wine Company, you’ll notice that it’s a classic old world creation. However, if you purchase a Harlan Estate 2002 from the Ideal Wine Company, you’ll soon discover how much of a contrast a new world California wine strikes, when compared with it’s old world French counterpart.

What Does Smelling Wine Tell You?

To make sure you appreciate your vintage when you buy a fine wine from the Ideal Wine Company, today we thought we’d ask; what does smelling wine tell you?

Stereotypical wine drinker

Modern society has developed a very clear image of the ‘stereotypical wine drinker.’ When an expert drinks wine, they start by swirling the glass, then they take a good sniff before lifting the drink to their lips and taking a small sip.

Throughout the modern era we have mocked this pronounced image of the stereotypical wine drinker. We have dismissed people who act like this as wine snobs; dangerously out-of-touch members of the elite who know nothing about ordinary life.

Swirl the wine

This common perception may be somewhat accurate; there are many wine ‘experts’ out there who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. However, we would also argue that you shouldn’t dismiss the behaviour they display when trying a new vintage out of hand. You can learn a lot about a wine by swirling it and having a good sniff before you take a sip.

Berry, Bros and Rudd explain in their wine guide that there’s a very good reason you should swirl a glass of wine before you do anything else. This one simple act increases the surface area of the glass, exposing the vintage to the air. This allows the wine to evolve, unlocking the aromas and flavours that allow you to learn about the character and composition of your bottle.

Smell the wine

But what will you learn after you’ve swirled your wine and taken a good sniff? First, it will either smell ‘clean’ or ‘unclean.’ If it’s ‘unclean’ it will smell musty, and this is a sign that your drink is corked and that you shouldn’t lift the glass to your lips at all.

Second, it will smell ‘weak’ or ‘pronounced;’ the stronger the smell, the more likely it is that the grapes were grown in a hot climate. A strong smell can also indicate that the wine has a high sugar content, and thus, a high alcohol content.

Finally, smelling the wine will be able to clue you into the specific tastes that characterise the vintage. For example, it might smell of nuts, dairy, sugar, wood, flowers, herbs or even minerals. This is an indicator of age; older wines smell more savoury and spicy, whilst younger wines smell more fruity and flowery.

Learn about your vintage

Therefore, you can lean a lot about your vintage by swirling it in the glass and giving it a good sniff before you take your first sip. This one act can tell you whether the wine is safe to drink, what it tastes like, how strong it is, how it was produced and even how old it is.

Now we’ve explained why you should smell your wine before you drink, try it out for yourself! Buy one of the Ideal Wine Company’s most aromatically complex bottles, the Chateau Latour 1983 today, so you can put your new knowledge to practice!

Ideal Wine Company explains the word “Appellation”

In the Ideal Wine Company’s opinion, every wine enthusiast should know what the word “appellation” means. This seemingly insignificant, industry-specific term is the key to understanding the composition of your favourite tipple.

Definition of “appellation”

The Free Dictionary defines an “appellation (wine)” as “a protected name under which a wine may be sold, indicating that the grapes used are of a specific kind from a specific district.” Essentially this means that “appellation” is a term the wine making industry uses to refer to the location a particular bottle was produced.

Vineyard classification system

In reality it’s so much more. It’s also a vineyard classification system used by many governments across the world e.g. France’s “appellation d’origine contrôlée” system. This is designed to define the rules and regulations of a wine’s production (e.g. the geographical boundaries the vintage must be made in), as well as the official use of its name, to assure the quality and authenticity of the vintage.

The most obvious example is Champagne. The sparkling wine was granted “appellation d’origine contrôlée” status by France’s official wine-regulator, the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, in 1936. This designation marked the geographical boundaries, rules and regulations wine-makers must adhere to if they want to label their product a “Champagne.”

Grape index

This means that the appellation of a wine can be used as a “grape index” to determine which grapes it was made from. This is especially common in France, where wine-makers often refer to their product by its appellation without listing its grape varietals.

Let’s use the Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1978, which you can buy from Ideal Wine Company, as an example. As is tradition with many Bordeaux wines, the vintage doesn’t list its grapes varietals. However if you look at its label you’ll discover it’s a “Paulliac,” meaning it’s a red wine that was been produced according to the rules and regulations that govern the “Paulliac appellation.” This means that the Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1978 contains grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Carmenere and Petit Verdo.

Determine quality

This is why it’s vital that wine enthusiasts know what the word “appellation” means. A wine’s appellation can tell you about how it was made, where it was made and what it was made from; all factors that allow you to determine the quality of the final product.