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Mod Merlots
Think there isn't a Merlot worth drinking? Think again.
Merlot producers in California practically crumbled after that famous line in the 2004 film Sideways uttered by Miles: “I’m not drinking any #@%!$ Merlot!” I believe in giving the underdog a chance, however, and recently sipped some Merlots that I have no qualms about recommending and could very well be the cusp of the next generation of Merlots.

2010 Wild Horse Winery Merlot (Central Coast, Calif., $17) is packed with bright-red cherry and blackberry-cobbler notes and complex layers, with an overall softness that’s practically plush. (www.wildhorsewinery.com)

2008 Franciscan Estate Merlot (Napa Valley, Calif., $21) features plum, cherry and blueberry notes interlaced with tobacco, creating a nice meat-pairing Merlot. The flavors mingle nicely with noticeable, almost chewy, tannins that are well structured. (www.franciscan.com)

2009 Charles Krug Winery Merlot (Napa Valley, Calif., $24) is lush, smooth and features mocha notes along with those of crushed black cherries, cherry pie and dried blueberries. It’s a fine, very flavorful, selection from Napa Valley’s oldest winery (operated by the Peter Mondavi family, it was founded in 1861). (www.charleskrug.com)

Seven Daughters Merlot (California, $14), a non-vintage wine, is packed with dark fruit (plums and currants) and is luscious and full-bodied, with spice near the finish as well as vanilla and toasty oak throughout. (www.sevendaughters.com)

On a night last week when there was an Arctic chill in the air I hunkered down for Happy Hour at The Hamilton, a two-year-old bar on the East Side. After sliding my car into a hilly spot caked with ice, I turned on the parking brake and headed inside for some warmth. Beginning at 5 p.m. on weeknights, all glasses of wine are reduced to $4, which is a steal considered the list is nicely procured with picks from around the globe that aren’t your standard “restaurant wines.”  With a glass of crisp Ranga Ranga Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) I practically forgot how bitter cold it was outdoors.

Pull out your planners, wine lovers, because Bay View Community Center’s fifth annual wine tasting and silent auction – Bay View Community Center’s wine-tasting event – is just around the corner. Tickets bought in advance through the website (or by phone, mail or at Bay View Community Center, 1320 E. Oklahoma Ave. or 414-482-1000) cost $39. They are $45 at the door. Held at Potawatomi Bingo Casino on the evening of Feb. 23, the two-hour event kicks off at 7:30 p.m. While the wines are still being named, you can check out the 2012 list here. Plan to spring on a hand-painted chair from a Bay View Arts Guild member artist, which are among the items in the silent auction.

Picking a good Chardonnay out of California, if you don’t have any idea where to look, is kind of like finding a needle in a haystack. A few years ago, I ate dinner with Rich Frank, owner of Frank Family Vineyards in Napa Valley, at Meadowood up the road and we sampled most of his wines. Frank’s a former Walt Disney Studios president who, in the early 1990s, realized he wanted more than a Napa Valley vacation home: He wanted a vineyard, which he got when he bought the former Kornell Champagne Cellars. The 2011 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California, $35) is at once buttery and crisp with a floral nose that extends to the back of the palate and with a slight detection of jasmine. There are notes of baked golden apples, quince and pineapples. For a flawless Chardonnay, you can’t go wrong with this one. (www.frankfamilyvineyards.com)

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