Obviously, Merlot has had a bad name as of late, no thanks in part to the quintessential line in Sideways:

No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

To a certain degree, this is deserved. A great many bottles of Californian Merlot are squalid, watery, undefined, over-oaked grape juice. It’s understandable why someone would get a very, very bad view of this particular grape if they only taste American reds (although there are some good ones hiding about). It needs to be noted though that once you cross the Atlantic, things change a great deal, as can easily be seen in Alen Bibich’s Sangreal Merlot.

We first encountered this wine several years ago, sitting out at Alen’s joint café venture, “Alante” in Skradin, Croatia. It was a potently hot July with the days peaking around 37C and the nights not particularly any cooler other than having an absence of sun. The Adriatic was far too warm to be of any help to cool off with a dip. Naturally, this was the type of weather to have Alen take us through his entire portfolio of wines (don’t ask us how we got back home to Trogir afterward), including a number of unlabeled bottles that were yet to be released, such as this Merlot.

This is a highly-structured well-crafted wine, but it’s not easy to find. We opened this bottle after having it squirreled away for some time and the most important item to note about this wine is that it is not just a good wine, but a great Merlot. That said, it’s a European-style wine. It’s best had with food, but it’s more than happy to stand up against a meal such as the risotto that we had it with. It has strong tannins that beg to be paired with something hearty, preferably pasta in origin. By itself, it would still be enjoyable, but it’s not a full bodied wine that many would think to drink alone, which makes sense given that it’s an unassuming 13% alcohol.

Upon initial opening, the nose of this seven year-old wine is a bit strong with alcoholic black cherry aromas wafting out. The color is quite notable as it looks like how a wine should look with a light, garnet red. It’s not this super dark red that so many wines are tinted to mimic these days. Given 15 minutes, the initial nose blows off and the wine starts to set up. The body takes on flavors of mature sour cherry and as it breathes more, fresh mint comes in to the picture. It doesn’t really develop more than that though and the finish, while clean, really likes to be paired. If drank alone, it would probably linger a bit much for most people.

If you can find this Merlot, open it and drink up. It feels to be at its prime right now and with such a delightfully light body to it, there probably won’t be much more development in the bottle beyond what is presented now.

We talk a great deal more about the wines of Bibich as well as the other Croatian wineries in our Dalmatian enotourism guide.


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