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Jul. 27, 2009
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I've had a chance to dig into the mailbag and give some well-deserved recognition to some of the readers who have graciously added their suggestions. Without further adieu

Cycles Gladiator 2006 Merlot - When a bartender gives an honest recommendation, listen. Jen C. mentioned this merlot and I decided to give it a swing. Cycles Gladiator was a French bicycle company in the 1890's, and the wine label bears the artwork from those old posters.

This merlot is interesting. The nose is very full and, to me, smells like what in WineSpeak they call "cassis" —which to the rest of the world would be currant. There's also a little chocolate smell mixed in. The taste is wonderfully complex for a wine this inexpensive. There's a solid plummy flavor that gets balanced by a little acidity. You might read descriptions of the tannins in wine as "chewy." If you want a good example, try this wine it's got very rich body along those lines. There's a little more acidity on the finish that you'll find in many merlots, but that rapidly gives way to a nice dark chocolate flavor. While all merlots are relatively food friendly —this one's got enough body and structure to hold up to even a good cut of steak. But it'll work with almost anything —from mac and cheese to duck. If you're still wary of merlot, hop on the Cycles for $8-10. Like they say, you never really forget how.

Santa Ema 2006 Barrel Select Carmenere - In my Chilean column, I made a slightly erroneous statement about Carmenere, a common red wine grape. I said it was similar to merlot. Sharp-eyed and knowledgeable Vine reader Scott S. forwarded an article informing me that Carmenere was a completely different species of grape —not simply a regional version of an established varietal.

The Santa Ema was the first Carmenere I tried. A quick swirl brings a fairly light nose that reminds me of chocolate covered berries. This wine has moderately tannic taste and medium body. It's not quite as big as the Cycles, for instance, but it won't be easily overwhelmed. The taste is a little less fruity than most merlots. Instead, if you were looking for a comparison, it's got an earthy taste similar to some French merlots —although not nearly as complex. The finish is longer than most merlots, and certainly drier. You could probably enjoy the Santa Ema with many of the same foods you'd get with the Cycles. Look for this in the $9-11 range.

La Vieille Ferme 2004 Cotes du Ventoux- Vine reader Dan R. offered up this suggestion: "Our favorite cheapies this year have been two Rhone reds: Abel Clement Cotes du Rhone and La Vielle Ferme. Both can be found under $8, and both are genuinely good and not overly simple. Notably, for inexpensive wines, both open up a lot with breathing. Abel Clement, in particular, deserves at least an hour out of the bottle."

Unfortunately, I was unable to track down the Abel Clement, but the La Vielle Ferme was readily available and quite decent. As Dan mentioned (as well as with many French wines) the La Ville Femme is better if you crack the bottle a half hour or so before drinking. The earthy characteristics of many European, especially French, wines can take some getting used to. This wine is a blend of largely Grenache and Syrah. It greets you with a fat smell of fresh earth and blackberries. The first taste is a bit tart, with some deep fruit flavor and earthiness. The finish is somewhat smoky and dry. Like most French wines, lamb, root vegetables, grilled meats, veggie chili, and most stews with beans (cassoulet being the quintessential example) would be excellent. You can take this little trip to the Rhone valley for, as Dan said, about $8.

Until next time, keep those suggestions coming and that wine flowing


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