J. Lohr is another out of my usual "comfort range" but which I decided to try-and-see.
New World wine countries have really taken to Merlot; it is an easy-growing variety that can produce easy-quaffing wines with ripe fruit and low tannins that appeal either to novice wine drinkers or those who want their red wine without food.
My experience of Californian wines is based on a recent business trip to the US where I followed my usual routine of ordering a glass of something local with my food. In both cases, the wines were well-made but varietal and a little bit "text book", tasting exactly as that particular variety of wine should - a dependable sort of good ol' boy with an easy, natural charm but not too much of his own personality.
Personally, I prefer a touch more Gallic insouciance in my red wines - even if that means a little less finesse - but I saw this wine marked down by 50% on the bottle at Waitrose the other week and, having reason to believe the discount was genuine, could not resist both the bargain and the chance to try out something a little unusual (for me).
The grapes for this wine were grown in the Estrella River area of Paso Robles which the winemaker, Jerry Lohr, claims to be "one of three appellations in California that produces world class Merlot". I don't know either way, but the ever-trusty Oz Clarke in his Pocket Wine Book 2004 describes Paso Robles as "a large AVA at the northern end of San Luis Obispo county" with no mention of either Merlot or Estrella River. He does, however, give J Lohr one star out of three, meaning "a particularly good wine or producer in its category".
On the nose, even poured straight into the glass without any airing, the wine was fruity and rich with a pleasant vanilla aroma; the palate had the same red-berry fruit, an extremely smooth texture, good acidity and a noticeably rich sweetness whilst being dry on the finish with a hint of tannic grip.
However, with a some more air contact and time in the glass, a touch more personality started to emerge with gentle hints of something a little earthier, such as licorice and plums, and a lovely finish.
This is a very well-made wine with, when aired, plenty of subtle nuances, rather than strong primary flavours. Low-ish tannins also mean that it is not a great match for robust meaty dishes or hearty stews. Try matching with plain roast chicken or perhaps something gamier, such as duck or quail.
Los Osos Merlot - £9.99 from Waitrose (full price, but purchased at £5.09).