JK Wine: Giving Merlot the Second Chance it Deserves
Do we even know what we’re talking about when we talk about wine’s biggest outcast?
Editor’s Note: Kara Daly is a wine writer and educator who hosts private wine tastings for Charlotte residents. Jerry Chandler is a beverage program consultant for local restaurants by day and a wine bartender by night. JK Wine is the duo’s new Queen City Nerve column, in which they’ll seek out hidden gems in Charlotte’s wine scene and the food that pairs well with each bottle. Follow Kara on IG @wineisconfusing and Jerry @runswithbottles.
Good people of Charlotte: We give you your winter porch pounder, an easy-drinking red that will warm you on gloomy days. Pair with your best bathrobe and finest blanket (and throw a book in there if you want). We found this bottle of red goodness at Bond Street Wines in Eastover and were as intrigued by the fact that it said, simply, Palmira Rosso on the label as we were by its price: $14.99. A mysterious bargain! But what is this wine?
We knew it was from Italy for two reasons. First, Rosso means red in Italian and often refers to an undesignated wine region (aka, a table wine). And second, the subregion was listed on the back: Venezia Giulia. This is the land of Pinot Grigio, located in northeast Italy. On the nose, we got raisins, wet cocoa, cherries, and blackberry bramble. On the palate, the wine was driven by fresh fruit and lively acidity.
Now we were curious about the grape, so Jerry looked it up and had Kara take a guess: Pinot Noir? No. Sangiovese? No. Cabernet? No. After the third guess, Kara folded. As it turned out, the charming wine in our hands was the one that Miles Raymond would have us canceled for showing up to the dinner party with. It’s the wine we would be considered absolutely “sideways” for praising. We were drinking Merlot.
This curveball made us pause and think to ourselves, do we even know what we’re talking about when we talk about Merlot? This French grape has fallen completely out of fashion, becoming the outcast of our generation of wine lovers. Is this the reason why even though Jerry has been studying wine since 2014 and Kara since 2020, neither of us has paid much mind to Merlot?
Poor Merlot. She has been there as an underrated solo artist, a backup singer, as Tree Number Three, but who knew she could serve the dead of winter and the birth of spring all in one glass? This is the stuff that natural wine dreams are made of.
In 2009, Sonoma State University did a study called “The Sideways Effect,” which found a decline in Merlot sales following the movie Sideways. And as hospitality professionals, we’ve witnessed people turn their noses up at the wine, citing the movie. The grape originates in Bordeaux, France, but has made its way to almost every wine region in the world. It’s the fourth most widely grown grape in the U.S., yet no one wants to drink it. What happened?
At some point, we all agreed that Merlot sucked. Is it time to bring her back into style? Has the once oaky old man in a powdered wig transformed himself into everyone’s favorite saloon girl sitting beside the bar just waiting for you? Jerry votes yes, Kara votes yes — dear reader, would you care to make it unanimous?
While you ponder your position, let’s take a closer look at this particular bottle. The Vistini family has been living on their estate in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, basically at the Slovenian border, since way back in 1884. We believe that the reason this bottle is so light in its loafers is due to two important choices the producer has made: one, they practice organic and biodynamic farming; and two, they haven’t inundated the wine with oak. Instead, the wine is fermented in stainless steel, which allows it to be more Minnie Riperton where it may otherwise be a powerhouse like Aretha Franklin.
But don’t get us wrong; neither are wrong, per se (both ladies have found their way into Rolling Stone’s 200 Greatest Singers of All Time, after all). There’s a time and a place for every wine style, which is exactly what makes this approachable red wine the perfect wintertime porch pounder. Be sure to wave at us if we drive by yours.
To pair our bottle of Palmira Rosso, we picked up food from the Jasmine Grill and Kabab in Commonwealth Park in east Charlotte. The chicken samosas, foul medames, and even their hummus (perhaps the freshest in town) agreed with the wine really well. If you’re having Middle Eastern food and craving a red wine, this one will do the trick. It’s light enough to play with the herbaceous notes you’ll find in dishes like tabouleh but structured enough to accompany even your lamb kofta.
Merlot has fallen completely out of fashion — to the point that it’s almost embarrassing to order. Yet, Merlot has the ability to make exactly the wine that is most fashionable right now: bright, fruity, and crushable.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.