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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)

WINE DEAL OF THE WEEK
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.

WINE EVENT OF THE WEEK
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.

WINE OF THE WEEK
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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