October Domestic Wine: 2011 Ancient Peaks Merlot, Paso Robles, CALIFORNIA

How can a $20 Merlot from Paso Robles taste this good? Frankly, Paso’s usually too hot to make distinguished Merlots, and too many end up tasting like mediocre zinfandels. But Ancient Peaks is located in the coolest part of Paso Robles, on the extreme southern end near the town of Santa Margarita. Cool ocean breezes flow past San Luis Obispo up the Cuesta Grade and keep Ancient Peaks’ vineyard cooler than most others in Paso, so Bordeaux varieties like Merlot do very well there. Surprisingly smooth, rich and classically Merlot in flavor, this wine offers a lot of quality for the money.

A Little About Ancient Peaks: Eons ago, the ocean floor rose as the coastal plates collided, forging the tall peaks surrounding their sustainably farmed Margarita Vineyard on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. Over time, these same geologic forces blessed them with five distinct soil zones–ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic—that bring profound flavor and complexity to our wines.

About Merlot: A very popular red grape varietal found in the great wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol. It is the most planted variety in Bordeaux, and it has also become an extremely fashionable red in many regions including California. Although it has a reputation to be smooth, and easy to drink when young, Merlot is also capable of producing extremely intense wines as well. It is often used as a blending agent with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Varietals: 100% Merlot

Alcohol: 14.5% by volume

Food Pairings: Recommended pairings include roasted rack of lamb, rosemary pork tenderloin and pan-seared rib eye steak.

Tasting Notes: The 2011 Merlot offers deep, velvety flavors of plum and cassis with accents of dark mocha.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Wow! A rich and powerful power pack of a wine! A decadent Merlot. This wine is made to drink with all red meats, especially barbeque. Definitely a Cabernet lover’s Merlot!”-JL

October Imported Wine: 2011 Domaine Terre de Mistral ‘Antoine’, Provence, FRANCE

Terre de Mistral, established in 2008, is the story of two families who share the same passion for Provence, and a strong desire to pass and make their expertise. Located 15km from Aix-en-Provence, facing the mythical Mont Saint-Victoire rising like a painting, this area is a great region for producing wine and olive oil.

About Provence Wines: Provence (Provençal) wine comes from the French wine-producing region of Provence in southeast France. The Romans called the area provincia nostra (“our province”), giving the region its name. Just south of the Alps, it was the first Roman province outside Italy.

Wine has been made in this region for at least 2,600 years, ever since the ancient Greeks founded the city of Marseille in 600 BC. Throughout the region’s history, viticulture and winemaking have been influenced by the cultures that have been present in Provence, which include the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Gauls, Catalans and Savoyards. These diverse groups introduced a large variety of grapes to the region, including grape varieties of Greek and Roman origin as well as Spanish, Italian and traditional French wine grapes.

Today the region is known predominantly for its rosé wine, though wine critics such as Tom Stevenson believe that region’s best wines are the spicy, full-flavoured red wines. Rosé wine currently accounts for more than half of the production of Provençal wine, with red wine accounting for about a third of the region’s production. White wine is also produced in small quantities throughout the region with the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) region of Cassis specializing in white wine production. The Côtes de Provence is the largest AOC followed by the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The Bandol region near Toulon is one of the more internationally recognized Provençal wine regions.

L’Appellation: IGP Mediterranee

Varietals: 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon

Alcohol: 14.0% by volume

Food Pairings: Great with autumnal foods like pork, lamb and steak. Drink this and you’ll warm up!

Tasting Notes: By the marriage of Bordeaux varietals, controlling fermentation temperatures and a long fermentation process, the winemaker created this powerful wine. It is a rich wine with intense color. The aromas are of very ripe and jammy black fruits come together with notes of caramel and pepper.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Spicy cedar box flavor, and loaded with white pepper and Mediterranean spices. In my opinion, best enjoyed with lamb. Enjoy during the football game. It is sure to be a winner!”-JL