Home > Uncategorized > Gamla Reserve Merlot, Galilee

Gamla Reserve Merlot, Galilee


So, despite Paul Giamatti’s tirade on Sideways I decided to give Merlot a chance. While I generally agree with his character’s stance on the grape (keep tuned!), there are always exceptions to the rule.

So why do wine geeks rag on Merlot so much? In general, there’s a very simple reason: a lack of balance. California Merlot has been an insanely popular wine from the 60s and 70s through today. Its popularity stems from the soft and plummy nature of the grape. Its tannins are generally lower than its Cabernet cousins and is a very approachable wine. By being so fruity and low in tannin, acid, etc., and yet full-bodied, Merlot is the kind of wine that many newbies to the wine world can easily pick up and enjoy. But this quality is a double-edged sword.

This lack of variance and lack of acid/tanin, due to a general tendency in Cali (and other areas) to allow the grape to overripen, leads to a wine that, while easily approachable and drinkable, is also very uninteresting and lacking dimension. In other terms, Merlot, the way it’s produced for mass market wines, is like listening to a person singing unaccompanied. While the singer’s music is likely more easily heard and understood, the lack of background musical movement leads to an overall uninteresting performance. As another image, think of how the Olympic sport of ice skating would change if there were no music for the skater(s) to perform to.

Earlier I mentioned over-ripening the grape. The school of thought in California (and many New World-style producers) is to let the grape ripen as long as possible on the vine. The resulting wine is going to be fuller in body and lower in acid. Robert Parker is one of the more famous wine critics whose palate has done nothing but wonders for the full-bodied, over-ripened, uber-fruity, heavily oaked wines.

In an attempt to make up for the lack of tannic structure in the wine, California winemakers will often age their Merlots in oak barrels for extended periods; this oak aging will allow the wine to leach tannin from the oak and give some of that structure that it so desperately needs. However, the downside to oak aging of this type is that the flavors and aromas that the wine gets from the oak also tend to overpower whatever flavors and aromas are extant in the wine itself.

In short, the overripe, fruity, oaky Merlot, while a wine that even the most rudimentary drinker can enjoy, often leaves the sophisticat wanting.

So, getting off my soap box and moving along….today’s specimen is an oak aged Merlot from Israel by Gamla. While not my favorite wine that I’ve ever tasted, it certainly has some redeeming factors that make it a wine that isn’t deserving of a carte blanche criticism of the Sideways persuasion.

Yes, it is oaky. You can tell this from the strong vanilla and smoky aromas that the wine gives off. (and yes, these qualities are echoed in the palate). but beyond that, you will find that there is some tobacco, woody spice and dark plum notes that lend the wine some interest. The last couple of days I’ve been drinking this wine with both roast chicken and chicken soup and it is probably not the best companion for those dishes, but at the same time not the worst, either.  I would like to try this wine with a dish centered around some merguez sausage or something else of that sort…maybe a Majadara or Tajine. Both of these dishes are round and relatively softly-flavored and allow for some interesting interaction on your palate with a wine such as this.

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