Aqua Pumpkin Merlot

E Wine of the Week

By Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

Trends come and go in wine as they do for other parts of our lives. How many times have we seen a grape go from popular, to overly popular, to overproduced, to yesterday’s news—and then come back better than ever? This week we’ll look at a classic example of a wine that did exactly that..

If you’re in Little Rock on Aug. 20, you can taste some great wines with James Cripps and me, “After Work at the Afterthought” at the corner of Kavanaugh and Beechwood in Little Rock’s historic Hillcrest neighborhood. We’ll be pouring wines from Lake County’s Wildhurst Vineyards from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Stop by and taste through the wines at your own pace for $10. Appetizer specials will be available in the Afterthought, and the restaurant Vieux Carré is right next door. Details on the web site,

Try a new wine this week!


Aqua Pumpkin Merlot

Merlot tasty and popular

Merlot is one of the top three best selling grape varieties in the country, rivaled only cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. And, some of the world’s greatest wines are made from this grape.  Well known examples include Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, which sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, and Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards. Years ago, merlot’s new-gained popularity caused sales to soar, which caused shortages. This brought many people into the merlot business, and a lot of bad merlot was in the market for years. This culminated in merlot being foully dissed in the wine movie “Sideways.” Today it has come full cycle, as a more discerning wine market has caused much of the bad merlot to fall by the wayside while a new generation of rich, full, well-made merlot has taken its place.

Merlot was long considered a blending grape in its native home of Bordeaux, France, but there cabernet sauvignon is a blending grape, too. On the “Left Bank” (home of Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild and Margaux), the firmer, cabernet-based wines are softened with a little merlot. On the cooler “Right Bank” (St. Emilion), the suppler merlot wine is given extra “backbone” with varying percentages of cabernet sauvignon and it’s earlier ripening cousin, cabernet franc.  Today this practice of blending is routine in California as well.

Being naturally less tannic, merlot is smoother than cabernet, so many people making the transition from white wine to red prefer it. It pairs well with pretty much the same foods as cabernet. If you’re serving two wines with one course, it can work well to pour a merlot in front of a cabernet sauvignon.

The best merlot tends to come from cooler areas. That’s one reason that you don’t see as many from Australia and Argentina. Good values can be found from Chile, and there are many options from California and Washington. Merlot has been grown in northern Italy for centuries, having been brought there by the French.

California’s Central Coast has a wide variety of microclimates, making it a good place for just about any wine grape. A relatively new example, brought to Arkansas by my company, is Aqua Pumpkin. It’s made by Ken Volk, who sold much of this under the Wild Horse label before he sold that winery. It retails in the $15-$20 price range.

Categories: Legacy Archive