In France, the 2009 vintage of red Bordeaux wines is being celebrated as the finest vintage in decades. It's definitely worth checking with your favorite wineseller to see what's available now. Meanwhile, in Chile, 2008 is being more quietly touted as a banner year for merlot. If the 2008 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Merlot is any indication, the buzz is justified. Expect to pay a very palatable $13 at big box stores and maybe a bit more at smaller wine retailers.
This smart red, sourced from Lapostolle's Apalta Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley, actually is a blend: 85 percent merlot nicely balanced with 15 percent carmenere. And before we go further, a word of advice from the winemaker: Because this wine is not clarified and only lightly filtered, it is recommended that it be decanted before serving at cool cellar temp (58 to 64 degrees).
A deep purple in the glass, this wine offers a heady nose of lush dark fruit, a bit of spice and an evocative hint of chocolate cherries. On the tongue it is elegantly robust and mouth-filling. Up front you'll savor juicy black and red fruit and a touch of cola, a lovely melange given beautiful structure by full-blown tannins. This merlot most definitely has legs. The finish is long and supple, with those chocolate cherries making a teasing comeback right at the end.
The food pairing that comes first to mind is an extravagant porterhouse steak right off the grill seasoned with salt and pepper and nothing more. This wine also would go well with barbecue ribs plated with stewed collards and mashed sweet potatoes.
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.