I know that the oak debate, among winemakers and wine geeks, usually centers American vs. French oak, with everyone arguing passionately in favor or their preferred barrel. But, as much as I tend to prefer the more expensive French cooperage, I really enjoy what a third type of oak, Hungarian oak, brings to the table as well.
That spice, and more understated raw oak flavors are on display in Comtesse Therese 2005 Hungarian Oak Merlot ($18), an extremely approachable, enjoyable red.
The nose is playful and spicy, blending bright red berries -- cherries and raspberries -- with violets, black pepper and subtle brown spices.
The berry flavors are a bit darker on the juicy palate, with blackberry joining the party. That Hungarian oak brings layers of black pepper and spice, and also imparts hints of toasty oak and vanilla. There is plenty of fruit here to balance the oak.
The tannins are super-ripe tannins and just a little grippy. A bit more grip would be nice, but for drinking today and over the next couple of years, there's enough.