Last week I was wandering along Polk Street and stepped into the Bargain Bank for the first time. Among the discounted wines were half bottles (375 ml) of 1997 Alois Lageder Alto Adige Merlot, $3.99, which is up there for Bargain Bank but half the normal retail price for this bottling. Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol, is a prime viticultural region in the German-speaking part of Northern Italy, perhaps more well-known for its white wines than reds. Lageder is one of my favorite producers in this region and has consistently turned out well-made wines over the years. Since 1997 was a very fine vintage in the area, it was a no-brainer to spring for a bottle.
When wines are dumped like this at discounters, one always has to wonder whether theyre distressed merchandise and damaged in some way. As soon as I pulled the cork, the problem was clear. Fortunately, its not one that affects its drinkability. While the label shows the vintage as 1997, the cork is branded 1995 --- oops! Looking at the wines color, a dark red with little pulling from the rim, it looks more like a younger 1997 than a 1995. In any case, both are good vintages, although the 1995, particularly in the small bottle format, would probably be past prime.
The aromas and flavors are well-developed with gravelly minerality, subdued oak tone, a spicy mace and white pepper note, cedar, and restrained dried cherry and cranberry fruit. The wine is medium-light in body with moderate alcohol, crisp acidity and light tannins in balance with the fruit concentration and has a finish of medium length. Ready to drink now and should be consumed within the next year. 85 points with excellent QPR (quality-to-price ratio), and good to have on hand for the times when you don't want to open a full 750ml bottle.
I enjoyed it with a pan-grilled ribeye and onion confit made by braising sliced Texas sweet onion in butter. A little bit of the Merlot deglazed the pan after cooking the steak to blend with the butter to make a little sauce.
This bottle was from lot number L8 L14, which is printed on the back label next to the bar code. The front label is as shown below, but with 1997 and without Südtirol on these smaller halves. Ill also mention that the cashier at Bargain Bank said that if the wine had turned to vinegar, I should bring it back for a refund. Thats good to know, even if I didnt need to this time. Wines in half bottles sometimes have quality control problems, so do save your receipt. If others try this wine, Ill be curious to hear if the mis-marked cork problem is repeated.
Btw, I noticed that Peppermint Park was open for business. Not sure if it has the 30 ice cream flavors promised, but the signs in the window proclaim Mitchells.