italy’s Best Merlot Wines
Merlot is not a wine that readily comes to mind when discussing Italian wines. In a country populated with hundreds of different indigenous wine varieties and numerous attention-getting and popular wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Chianti Classico, to name a few, Italian Merlot doesn’t rise to the level of wide popular recognition.
However, Merlot wines have increased in popularity in recent years with increased production of both blended wines as well as 100 percent Merlot wines. When added to grapes that are tannic and intense and/or acidic, the Merlot can soften and add roundness and fruity aromas to the resulting wine. Merlot is one of the major varieties, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Verdot and some others, that are included in the production of the immensely popular Bordeaux-style wines known as Super-Tuscans.
Merlot can also produce a delightful and intriguing pure varietal wine. While Merlot has a long history of use as a blending wine, pure Merlot wines have been relatively slow in gaining momentum in Italy. That too has changed and today some of the world’s best Merlot wines bear Italian labels.
Merlot grapes offer ripe, fruity aromas and complex, supple, full-bodied flavors. Merlot wines have a strong affinity for wood ageing which can augment the wine’s tannins and enhance the subtleties of the wine. In the hands of a talented producer, Merlot can produce some simply stunning wines with concentrated aromas, good fruit and acidity and long, complex finishes.
Merlot is widely grown throughout Italy, probably moreso than is commonly believed. It is the fifth most widely planted grape variety in Italy. While Tuscany, where Merlot is used liberally in the production of Super-Tuscan wines, has received the most attention for Merlot production, more Merlot is actually grown in the Alto Adige, Friuli and Veneto regions in northeastern Italy. Some Merlot is also planted in Umbria, Campania, Sicily and other regions.
The styles of Italian Merlot wines vary considerably from region to region and from producer to producer. With regard to just pure Merlot (i.e., 100 percent Merlot) wines, the styles of wines produced run the gamut from full-bodied, oaky, international-style wines to those that are varietally pure and silky smooth with soft textures and classic Merlot flavors.
Indicated below are what I consider to be Italy’s best 100 percent Merlot wines. They are divided into groups based on price with wines priced over $90 a bottle in the the “Expensive” category; wines priced from $30 to $90 a bottle in the “Mid-price” category; and wines under $30 in the “Inexpensive” category. I have also listed a few wines in an “Almost-Merlot” category that I consider noteworthy but are not pure Merlots because they include small amounts of non-Merlot grapes. The wines are all listed alphabetically within each category.
Castello di Ama, “L’Apparita” 2006 (about $190)
L’Apparita became a cult wine right from its first vintage in 1985 and brought the small Castello di Ama estate in Tuscany to the attention of wine collectors throughout the world.
Fattoria Petrolo, “Galatrona” 2006 (about $95)
Year after year, this small production Merlot garners critical acclaim and is consistently awarded the prestigious Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso. Despite its steep price tag it rates high on a quality-to-price basis and compares favorably with other even more expensive wines.
Le Macchiole, “Messorio” 2007 (about $320)
This very low production, dense and luxurious wine can go head-to-head with the best French Merlots.
Radikon, Merlot 2000 (about $150)
An old-fashioned, naturalist wine maker, Stanko Radikon is making some of the most unusual and sought-after wines in northeastern Italy’s Friuli region. His Merlot wines win considerable praise but, unfortunately, not much finds its way to the U.S.
Roberto Voerzio, Merlot Fontanazza 2005 (about $170)
With his attentive vineyard management practices and low production, Roberto Voerzio exemplifies Italian winemaking at its finest. Since it is hard to find in the U.S., this is a wine to bring back with you on your next trip to the Piedmont region.
San Giusto a Rentennano, “La Ricolma” 2008 (about $105)
This super-Tuscan Merlot is made by an organic producer in the heart of the Chianti Classico region. It spends 22 months ageing in French oak barriques and an additional 6 months in the bottle. This intriguing wine is well worth the wait.
Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, “Masseto” 2007 (about $450)
Since its first vintage in 1986, this wine has been a star in the Italian Merlot wine constellation and one of the world’s finest Merlot wines. A pure Merlot from a top producer in a classic vintage makes for a wine you won’t easily forget.
Tua Rita, “Redigaffi” 2008 (about $490)
This is from one of Italy’s premier winemakers with a small-yield vineyard located in Bolgheri next door to all the other great Super-Tuscan vineyards. This may well be Italy’s best Merlot wine.
Castello Banfi, “Mandrielle” 2004 (about $32)
This Merlot from the Sant’Antimo appellation in Tuscany is another winner from Banfi’s extensive line-up of wines.
Castello della Regine, Merlot 2003 (about $60)
Produced from Merlot vines planted at the beginning of the 20th century in southern Umbria, this wine is aged in oak barriques for 12 months and then spends an additional two years in the bottle. This elegant wine is difficult to find in the U.S. but worth the effort,
Falesco, “Montiano” 2006 (about $40)
This is a 100 percent, single-vineyard Merlot from the Falesco estate in the Lazio region and is one of the Lazio region’s most famous wines.
Feudi di San Gregorio, “Patrimo” 2006 (about $85)
This gorgeous Merlot is from the Campania region’s premier wine estate probably best known for its initiatives with ancient native grape varieties.
Livon, “Tiare Mate” Merlot 2005 (about $40)
A cru wine from the estate’s vineyards in the Collio area of Friuli. The grapes are hand selected, traditionally vinified and barrique aged.
Marchesi di Frescobaldi, “Lamaione” 2006 (about $70)
With a history dating to the 1300’s, the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi estate is one of Italy's oldest wineries. Frescobaldi’s Lamaione is a superb Super-Tuscan and made using only the best Merlot from a single vineyard cru.
Sansonina, Merlot Veneto 2005 (about $36)
A remarkable Merlot wine from a 30-acre estate on the southern shore of Lake Garda in the Lugana sector of the Veneto. Although the Lugana zone is more famous for its white wines, the Sansonina estate has crafted this structured and elegant Merlot.
Villa Russiz, “Graf de la Tour” Merlot 2005 (about $70)
While it doesn’t have the immediate name recognition of other Italian Merlots, this wine belongs in the top tier of Italian Merlot wines. The grapes are harvested from 30-year-old vines in the prime Collio wine growing area of Friuli. The wine is aged for twenty to twenty-four months in barriques and an additional ten months in bottle prior to release for sale.
Bollini, Merlot Trentino 2009 (about $14)
This wine is from well-positioned and carefully maintained hillside vineyards near the city of Trento in northeastern Italy.
Ca de Rocchi, Merlot 2009 (about $26)
This is a fine effort by a producer in the Veneto.
Candoni, Organic Merlot 1999 (about $10)
This is a completely organic Merlot from the Veneto.
Cesari, Due Torri Grave Merlot 2008 (about $9)
A pleasant, inexpensive Merlot with good varietal character from the Veneto region.
Falesco, 2009 Merlot Umbria (about $16)
An impressive effort and great value wine from leading Italian winemaker Riccardo Cotarella. For review of this wine see Falesco Merlot.
Marco Felluga, Russiz Superiore Merlot Collio 2005 (about $22)
This Merlot is from one of the Collio’s most respected producers. Merlot grapes thrive in the Collio’s hilly terrain with its hot, sunny days and breezy, cool nights.
Avignonese, ”Desiderio” Cortona Merlot 2006 (about $50)
This outstanding Merlot-based super-Tuscan wine from Avignonese includes 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Avignonese's Cortona estate in eastern Tuscany.
Planeta, Merlot Sicilia 2005 (about $39)
This substantial Merlot from one of Sicily’s premier wine estates was first produced in 1995. It has a small amount (5 percent) of Petit Verdot added.
Poliziano, “In Violas” Cortona Merlot 2005 ($30)
Poliziano is a family-owned estate outside Montepulciano and is one of Tuscany’s most celebrated wineries. The wine is a blend of 85 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.
September 2, 2011
For reviews of some relatively inexpensive Super-Tuscan wines see Top Super-Tuscans.
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