NEW YORK • The last assignment for Wine School may not have seemed initially promising.
The wine, Pomerol, comes from Bordeaux, a region in France that remains somewhat out of fashion in the United States even as its top wines are coveted around the world.
The dominant grape, merlot, has been an object of scorn ever since a film, Sideways (2004), so pointedly disparaged it. And Pomerol is not cheap.
But one of the most important goals of Wine School is to puncture the assumptions of second-hand wisdom. You heard Bordeaux is uninteresting and not worth the price? Drink and decide for yourself. Everybody says merlot is awful? Well, guess what we say to that.
Each month in Wine School, I recommend three bottles of a particular type of wine for drinking. The response to Pomerol and merlot seemed overwhelmingly positive. To the prices, US$45 (S$60.70) to US$60? Not so much. Those who participated seemed not only receptive to the wines, but also liked them quite a bit.
The three wines I recommended were Pomerols (2012): Chateau Nenin, Chateau Bourgneuf and La Gravette de Certan. Recognising that they may not be everywhere, I suggested buying whatever vintages could be found, so many readers drank older wines.
Drinking these wines proved again the value of exposure to air and even decanting for opening up young wines.
"After popping the cork, this seemed hard-edged and fiercely tannic," JKM of Washington, D.C., wrote of a 2010 Chateau Haut- Maillet. "However, some time in a decanter helped to calm it down, revealing a wine of power and concentration."
I had a similar experience with the Gravette de Certan, although it was not so much locked up on an initial taste as it seemed weedy and green. I left it overnight in a decanter and when I returned to the wine, it had opened up, with aromas and flavours of purple fruit and a plush texture. What had seemed weedy was now attractively herbal.
Such are the drawbacks of drinking age-worthy wines when they are too young. People rarely have room to store and age wines properly and most restaurants are not inclined to invest time and money in cellaring wines for years.
As a result, wine publications are full of advertisements for gadgets that circulate air through the wine in an effort to speed up the ageing process.
As much as these wines needed time, the other quality of Pomerol that stood out to readers was the texture. JKM, this time drinking a 2010 Chateau La Pointe, said the wine "tended to wash over the palate with waves of plush, velvety black and red fruit". And Ali of New York found an 2008 Nenin "velvety with sensuous textures".
This supple sense of richness is typical of good Pomerol. I found it in the 2012 Nenin which, in contrast to the Gravette, was far more open, plush and easygoing, with flavours of bright, bold red fruits, licorice, herbs and spices.
In Toronto, a member of John Fraser's dinner and wine group called the wine "confident in itself".
For me, the Nenin was possibly too rich. I much preferred the leaner body of the Bourgneuf. Yes, it was silky, but it seemed more refreshing and complex than the other two wines and did not require nearly so much time in a decanter.
I found it almost wildly floral and exotic on opening, with aromas of violets. On the palate, it was earthy and herbal, with stony, spicy flavours of red fruit and tobacco. I found it almost as delightful as the two small-production Pomerols I had recommended, Chateau Gombaude- Guillot and Clos Saint-Andre.
The conundrum of Pomerol is that it invites further exploration. Yet prices are prohibitive. Recent vintages of Vieux Chateau Certan start at US$175 and Chateau Trotanoy about US$200.
For everybody, the answer to what constitutes good value is personal, depending on one's income and priorities. The best of those more expensive wines can astound with their complexity, purity, precision and ability to express their terroirs.
It is a treat to know that the less expensive wines suggested, stashed away for a decade or so, can also give great, although possibly not profound, Pomerol pleasure.
And if that is too much as well, at least this toe dip into Pomerol demonstrates that merlot indeed has a valued place in the world.
NEW YORK TIMES