In spite of fact that turkey and ham are not traditional pairs with bigger red wines, some of you holiday feasters don’t think you are drinking wine unless it is a teeth-staining, big-fruit bad boy.
We take care of you this week and next.
Cabernet sauvignon and merlot are core noble red grapes.
Cabernet sauvignon grapes are small, thick skinned, and have a high seed-to-pulp ratio, producing strong tannins. Tannin is a key to bottle aging and helps cab pair with fatty food such as steaks, but in young cabs tannin creates a dry, puckered feeling in the mouth that can freak out neophyte oenophiles.
Merlot is softer than cab and lower in acidity and tannin (thanks to fat berries and a low seed-to-pulp ratio). Smooth and soft are adjectives often used to describe merlot.
Merlot historically was a blending wine used to tame cabernet sauvignon in French Bordeauxs and to soften sangiovese in Italian reds. In the 1990s, however, merlot emerged as a pure varietal, particularly among newbies put off by rough treatment from cabs and other assertive reds.
It’s not either-or/cab-merlot. Red blends are true magic. Various combinations of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, and carménére produce exquisite wines, including—in Bordeaux—investment grade bottles selling for more than the annual income of most wine drinkers.
If red is your favorite color in wine at Christmas, pull the cork. The best wine is the one you like.
• Blackstone Merlot 2011. Plum, raspberry, toasty oak; 82% merlot with five other grapes; supple, lush; simple, entry-level merlot, nice-for-price pour. $9
• Francis Coppola Black Label Claret 2011. Plush plum, dark red fruits, creamy; decant to bring out flavor; very decent Bordeaux-style value play. $14
• Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Dusty-dense-dry; plum, berry, black cherry, spice; tannin finish; for serious cab lovers. $16
• Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. Michael David Winery is the Lord of Lodi; juicy, big, ripe red fruit, chocolate; controlled oak; tasty, smooth. $26
• Gallo Signature Series Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Harmonious, elegant, rich; blackberry, chocolate; supple tannin; delicious; Gina Gallo wins again. $40
Last round: In beer there is freedom. In wine there is wisdom. In water there is bacteria.