Merlot: one noble grape

Christmas being the perfect season for self-indulgence, I resolved (early in December) to release from my modest wine-cellar something lovely for Christmas. One of the oldies, but not too costly, I had reasoned; so I looked through the candidates and decided on a 1998 Pomerol – my singleton bottle of Château Franc-Maillet.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I took time out to taste the wine with friends. Earlier in the day, the cork had come out beautifully clean and smelt young and fresh. The wine, too, seemed youthful, with acid and sweet cinnamon prominent – especially at first. There was certainly plenty of fruit – cherries as well as plums. 

Later in the day, the dense complex of flavours began to unfurl, including chocolate and coffee, and some savoury notes were apparent. “It’s the best red I’ve ever tasted,” one friend ventured.

Sampling the wine over three days, I was able to experience and enjoy its development. And it was an ideal accompaniment to my evening meal on Christmas Day: hot-smoked salmon in a creamy Alfredo sauce with fresh egg pasta and a medley of green vegetables.  

A bit of research led me to conclude that this might well be one of the last bottles in New Zealand, but the vintage is still available from a few overseas merchants, for anything from $66 to $82 a bottle (plus tax) – which is at least twice what I must have paid. 

The writer on one UK merchant’s website asserts that “Chateau Franc Maillet has the some of the best terroir in the Pomerol AOC. The wine has a complex nose and a remarkable roundness in the mouth. … Its bouquet, both fine and complex, expresses notes of cherry brandy, vanilla, coffee and leather. The flavour is well balanced between power and elegance with good balance between oak and fruit. One which is certain to impress.”

“… you can do much better if you add a decimal place, or two, to the price,” as Elliot Essman said in his review of the 2000 vintage, “but the Château
Franc-Maillet is indeed the real thing if you want to experience the true nobility of the Merlot grape.”

According to Essman, this Pomerol is “at least three quarters Merlot; the remainder is undoubtedly Cabernet Franc. The plum center of the wine shows how Merlot is supposed to taste, with absolutely none of the vegetal notes characteristic of so many California Merlots. Be not in doubt, Merlot is one noble grape.”

Vinopedia gives Château Franc-Maillet an average rating of 88/100 points. In 2001, Robert Parker rated the 1998 at 87 (Wine Advocate #134, April 2001).


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