There I was, minding my own in the driver’s seat after picking up my daughter from Pre-K when her sweet, innocent voice came from the back seat.
“Um...mom,” she built herself up.
“Um....where did I come from?”
Unprepared, I said something about being from Florida - even though I knew she sought a more biological answer - and luckily something else caught her attention before she redoubled her inquiry. Whew. With that discussion tabled, my mind quickly wandered to wine.
Here’s how the train of thought went: “She’s from here because she was born here, but it seems like the majority of people In Southwest Florida are from somewhere else. Wine is that way too. I mean, merlot is right bank Bordeaux, but it’s also grown everywhere and can taste completely different depending on where it’s made. I wonder how merlot came to be. I need to look that up...is that car going to stop or just cut me off?”
Turns out merlot is the offspring of cabernet franc and a decorative grapevine from Brittany named madeleine. It’s named after a local black bird called “merlau” who would eat the grapes off the vine before winemakers had a chance to harvest.
In Italian “merlo” also means blackbird, and its namesake grape merlot has been an important part of northern Italian and Tuscan winemaking for hundreds of years.
The first time I saw an Italian merlot I thought it was an attempt to capitalize on the well-recognized French varietal name. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“The grapes traditionally said to be of ‘French origin’ have been grown in our area for at least more than 150 years,” says Angela Maculan of Maculan Family Winery in Italy’s Veneto region. “In 1855 in Vicenza (the main city of the area) there was a fair of all the products produced or grown in the area. The printed catalog of the fair lists more than 120 red grape varieties grown in the Vicenza area at that time. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot nero are on that list, and the same for the white grapes.”
Maculan makes a number of wines from traditionally Italian verietals as well as French named grapes. Angela Maculan will be in Naples this Friday at a small, intimate tasting at Osteria Tulia where tasters will work their way through six wines including a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon, and a cab/merlot blend that scored 94 points with the Wine Advocate.
While most wine grapes have clearly branded points of origin (sangiovese = Tuscany, pinot noir = Burgundy, sauvignon blanc = Sancerre) there is value in trying these wines when made in different places. While cabernet sauvignon was born in a Bordeaux vineyard (to parents cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc) it has done quite well in its travels to Napa, Australia, and Chile.
This season the Wine Merchant in North Naples will offer a series of tastings featuring a given grape grown in numerous locations. Trying side-by-side pinot noirs grown in Oregon, New Zealand, Burgundy, and Sonoma will be an interesting study of the impact of geography.
For more on the Wine Merchant’s tasting series, call 239-592-0000.
To learn more about the Maculan tasting at Osteria Tulia, call 239-213-2073.