We like our merlot with an edge, which means a wine masterfully blended with just the right helper grapes. That is just what the 2009 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot (about $19 at big box stores and wine savvy markets) delivers, with its sublime marriage of 80 percent merlot to 6 percent malbec, 5 percent petit verdot, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent syrah, 2 percent zin and a smidge of cabernet franc.
This superior red opens with a heady nose of dark fruits and black pepper, telling us instantly that there is more going on here than we might expect of a straight merlot. A rich melange of black plum, black currant and raisins fills the mouth at first sip, while layered, full but soft tannins reveal themselves fully at mid palate, as does a welcome touch of minerality. The long, lingering finish is kicked up with the savor of subtle bitter chocolate. From first sip to last, this merlot shows one of the characteristics of merlot we value most, a smooth velvety mouth feel.
Pair this silky blend with comfort foods like coq au vin or Mark Bittman's killer pot roast (recipe at markbittman.com/sunday-supper-classic-pot-roast).
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.