Sips: Raymond’s excellent Napa merlot

California merlot still suffers, I believe, from a somewhat undeserved reputation as an easy-drinking but largely undistinguished red. Raymond’s delicious 2007 Napa  Valley “Reserve Selection” Merlot belies that status and should be considered whenever the need calls for a distinctive and elegant Bordeaux-style wine. The first thing that appRaymondealed to me about this wine is that it is not overly alcoholic. The label lists alcohol at 14.2 percent, compared with some California merlots (and other reds) that exceed 15 percent and can suffer from an alcoholic hotness (Bordeaux reds typically weigh in at 13 percent ). Sorry, but it’s just hard for me to contemplate such wines as refreshing food companions. Second, Raymond’s merlot (with the addition of 15 percent cabernet sauvignon) is notable for its complexity, with concentrated tastes of ripe fig, plum, cherry and black cherry with background notes of earth, mocha and vanilla. Third, oak treatment is subtle and well integrated with the fruit, which is supported by a good tannic structure and ample acidity. All of this makes Raymond’s merlot an excellent companion to a variety of foods, including many beef and lamb, pork, chicken and vegetarian dishes. And its price, $23, is just right. Received as a press sample.

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