A Festival of Award-Winning Wines
I expected more from this event—which announces itself, unabashedly, as the world championship of merlot—than what I got. I’m well aware that a competition of this sort is only as good as its entries but the organizers and judges can do more to elevate the status of this oft maligned variety than by doling out undeserved medals. Add to that a lack of representation from key areas around the world and you get questionable results like this.
While the Swiss contingent was fairly well represented, the rest of the world was not. An international merlot competition without significant participation from Bordeaux, Tuscany, California, Washington and even Australia and South America is ludicrous. I tasted far too many washed out, overly vegetative and sloppy examples that would be deemed unacceptable in some places but were awarded gold medals here. Without context, and side-by-side comparison, such results are predictable. In my humble opinion, this competition and others like it, including the Mondial du Chasselas, would be better served by focusing on Swiss entries and dropping the mondial pretension.
As is my practice, I have focused on the worthy (in my estimation) Swiss merlots from the gold and silver categories. In a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking I found the two Cantina Monti wines worthy of gold medals instead of the silvers they received. Both are among my favorites of the tasting.
What follows are the highlights.
Merlot, Le Bernardin de Bernard Ravet 2014, Cave de la Côte, La Côte, Vaud: (Sourced from a parcel near Nyon. This is a bottling made at the cooperative near Morges and selected by the Ravet family.) Ruby rose in color. Opens with a penetrating medicinal nose with cherry notes. The palate is soft, warm and expansive with cherry and floral flavors. Real finesse here. Finishes with a bursting peacock’s tail of flavor. This is one of the best merlots I’ve tasted from Vaud.
Merlot, Élevé en Barrique 2015, Bouvet-Jabloir, Auvernier, Neuchâtel: Dark crimson in color. Ripe red currant and cranberry fruit on the nose. Very youthful, primary and a touch stern. Flavors are clean and broad with red currant, sour cherry and bitter chocolate notes. There is a slight chalkiness to the otherwise firmly packed fruit. Very undeveloped. I like the concentration here, and the potential, but more time in wood may have softened the edges.
Concerto 2015, Les Celliers de Vétroz, Valais (merlot/cabernet franc/cabernet sauvignon): Dark garnet in color. Very polished dark cherry nose with spicy/oaky notes. Precise, dark cherry flavors with some oaky grip. Still youthful but not hard. Hints at complexity but still unrepentantly simple. I like the polish and finesse here.
Concerto 2013, Les Celliers de Vétroz, Valais (merlot/cabernet franc/cabernet sauvignon): Warm garnet in color. Broader, more inclusive nose: cherry compote, chocolate powder and more oak integration. Very flattering chocolate/cherry fruit flavors. Soft and warm. Just enough chalkiness to add an intriguing layer of texture. Nice polish again. Very good potential even though it drinks well now.
Merlot, Bongio 2015, Azienda Agraria Cantonale di Mezzana, Ticino: (From a respected cooperative.) Dark ruby in color. Lovely, soft merlot nose that reeks of cherries. Sweet, cherry pie flavors are ripe and round and framed with a touch of acid juiciness. Authoritative grip to finish. As simple as this is, it is also very satisfying and a great example of merlot’s value as an everyday drink.
Merlot, Bongio 2015, Azienda Agraria Cantonale di Mezzana, Ticino (merlot/cabernet sauvignon): (Élévage in barrique.) Garnet/ruby in color. Melted chocolate and cherries. Nice, saturated flavors of the same. Sweet fruit and powdery tannins. Very attractive with room for development. A nice showing from this cooperative.
Sottobosco 2015, Agriloro, Rosso del Ticino (merlot/cabernetsauvignon/gamaret/cabernet franc/petit verdot): Ruby red in color. Very fresh red currant aroma grounded in earthy, floral notes. Upright flavors of red berry, loam and rosewater. Very clean and bright with a nice acid tang and firm, but not hard tannins. Nicely balanced.
Merlot 2015, Fattoria Moncucchetto, Ticino: Ruby red in color. Broad aroma of kirsch macerated cherries with reductive, rubbery elements. Real finesse on the palate with balanced fruit, acid and modest oak flavors. Cleanly made with fuzzy tannins to finish. This is good but borders on simple.
Vindala 2014, Cantina Settemaggio, della Svizzera Italiana, Ticino (merlot/marselan/carminoir): Dark ruby in color. Intense bug spray nose mingling with cherry cough drop aromas. Candied cherry flavors are slightly cooked but in balance with modest structural elements. Initially odd, and perhaps off-putting, but recovered nicely and acquitted itself in the end.
Amiis 2013, Cantina Settemaggio, della Svizzera Italiana, Ticino (merlot/marselan/carminoir): Garnet colored. More conventional nose of cherry and roasted grain with some cocoa powder. A bit too structured on the palate with firmly packed fruit, fuzzy tannins and a bit too much acid. Perhaps in an awkward place right now.
Malcantone, Rosso Dei Ronchi 2015, Cantina Monti, Rosso del Ticino (merlot/plus four others): Shiny ruby red in color. Nose is firm, fresh and precise with delineated bitter chocolate and cherry notes. Palate is firm but yielding with pit fruit saturation. Dark cherry flavors are ripe and sweet. Nicely structured with real depth of flavor. Absolutely delicious and textbook in presentation.
Monti, Il Canto della Terra 2013, Cantina Monti, Ticino (merlot): Garnet in color. More development than above with softer edges. Warm merlot nose is intricate and polished smooth. Lovely, cascading red fruit flavors are seamlessly layered and burnished bright. Smooth, warm and highly likable. The only drawback is a bit too much tannin to finish. Time will tell.
Merlot 2013, Piccola Vigna, Ticino: Garnet in color. Nose borders on too vegetative and weedy but not overly so. Palate is more savory than fruity and not especially merlot-like. Ripeness? Its salvation is a beautifully sculpted presence. Real finesse in structure and balance if not flavor.
Merlot 2012, Piccola Vigna, Ticino: Dark garnet in color. Clean, somewhat developed nose of cherry preserves and roasted grain. Palate is fresher with sweet cherry fruit and green, slightly stemmy notes. Nice presence and poise if a bit light. Overall bright and delicious and an excellent model for reigned in Swiss merlot.
Merlot, Riserva dei Cassinott 2015, Miriam Hermann-Gaudio, Ticino: Ruby in color. Cherry cough drop aromatics that are pretty and bright. Ripe red fruit and herbal notes are framed by juicy acids. Nicely balanced if not terribly complex.
Merlot, Tenuta San Rocco Porza 2015, Tamborini Carlo, Ticino: Ruby red in color. Broad, somewhat austere nose of slightly unripe red fruit. A touch awkward now and a bit simple. Tart cherry and cranberry flavors with a bit of finishing chewiness. From the more northerly reaches of the
Merlot, Comano 2015, Tamborini Carlo, Ticino: (500 grams per vine) Reddish garnet in color. Very fine spicy, red-fruited nose. Appealing ripeness on the palate with pit-fruit intensity. Ripe, round, spicy and sweet plum flavors. Good concentration with persistent flavors. Nicely textured. This is really excellent and a candidate for my coup de cœur.
Merlot, San Zeno, Costamagna 2015, Tamborini Carlo, Ticino: (Apassimento—15 days drying.) Dark garnet in color. Solidly jammy, dried fruit nose. Warm (hot?) entry with concentrated, super-saturated fruit. Stewed plums and cherries. Big but balanced and very good. This is for lovers of the super-ripe style.
Merlot, Carato 2014, Angelo Delea, Ticino: Muted ruby in color. Lovely red fruit aroma with melted chocolate, vanilla and cream. More melted chocolate on the palate with cherry fruit. Warm, supple and almost formless. Low acid but none of that high pH instability. It’s fair to call this sexy.
Diamante 2013, Angelo Delea, Rosso del Ticino (merlot/cabernet franc/syrah/cabernet sauvignon/petit verdot): Garnet/ruby in color and slightly cloudy. Fantastic chocolate factory nose that is both broad and lazy. More chocolate on the palate with some kirsch-y fruit. Once again rich and seemingly without structure. Small scale decadence rather than exaggerated opulence. Sweet and I must say delicious with a bit of aggressive tannin that comes out of nowhere to finish. An expensive bottle (165CHF) but unquestionably a luxury player.