I’m not the best person to ask about Merlot, since I don’t much care for it. Too many Merlots, even expensive ones, taste like they were made by people whose only interest in wine was stuffing money in a cash register.
Still, Merlot is popular, and I’m nothing if not an intrepid reporter. So I asked Harris Polakoff, the knowledgeable and erudite owner of Pogo’s in Inwood Village, to help me find several Merlots that were well made and provide good value. The conclusion: Wines like that exist, and there are more of them than I thought.
The popularity of merlot, a grape grown in all of the major wine producing regions, rests on its flavor. It’s less aggressive than red wines made with cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel, which makes for easier drinking. It’s also why so many of them can taste like a lollipop made with alcohol.
These wines don’t have that problem. Serve them all at room temperature (65 to 68 degrees):
• Norman Jean Merlot 2003 ($10). This is the one with the picture of Marilyn Monroe on the bottle, but Polakoff says that doesn’t detract from the wine’s qualities. It’s more well-rounded than other inexpensive merlots and worth the price.
• Two Tone Merlot 2003 ($14). More clever marketing — a screw top and smarmy copy on the back label — but a surprisingly sophisticated wine. It’s deeper in flavor than the Norma Jean. Serve it with red meats or a cheese soufflé.
• Canoe Ridge Merlot 2001 ($20). A sleek, professionally made wine that Polakoff says compares favorably to wines costing as much as one-third more. This is the Merlot to serve to silence those of us who don’t like Merlot.