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Guide to Merlot Wine Taste and Food Pairing

It’s time to set the record straight: Merlot wine is first class.

Merlot wine is regarded as the underdog to Cabernet Sauvignon. How come? Because cheap commercial Merlot has given the varietal a bad reputation.

It’s time to set the record straight: Merlot wine is first class. Not only does it command the highest respect in the wine world, Merlot also tastes great with food.

Merlot Wine Guide

The color of Merlot in a Glass

Merlot Wine Profile

MAJOR REGIONS: ~600,000 acres worldwide.

  • France (~280,000+ acres) Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Italy (~93,000+ acres) Toscana, Campania
  • United States (~55,000+ acres) California, Washington
  • Australia (~39,000 acres) South Australia
  • Chile (~25,000 acres) | Argentina (~13,000 acres)

FRUIT: Black Cherry, Raspberry, Plum
OTHER: Graphite, Cedar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Clove, Mocha
OAK: Yes. Usually medium oak aging (8-12 months)
TANNIN: Medium
ABV: 12-15%


St. Émilion, Pomerol, Fronsac, Côtes de Bourg, Blaye

merlot wine comparison to other red wines in terms of color and body

Merlot Wine Taste

Red fruits, easy tannins and a soft finish are the characteristics of Merlot wine. But there’s more to Merlot than being smooth. It’s actually a bit of a chameleon, partly because of how Merlot is vinified and mostly because of where it’s grown. Take a look at the range of Merlot wine taste based on region (cool climate vs. warm climate).

Wine description word cloud of cool climate Merlot wine

Cool Climate Merlot Taste

Cool climate Merlot is more structured with a higher presence of tannins and earthy flavors like tobacco and tar. Some cool climate Merlot are mistaken as Cabernet Sauvignon.

France, Italy, Chile

A classic example of cool climate Merlot wine is Right Bank Bordeaux, such as St. Emilion, Pomerol and the earthy Fronsac.

Wine description word cloud of hot climate Merlot wine

Hot Climate Merlot Taste

Warm climate Merlot wine is more fruit-forward and tannin is less prevalent. Some producers use judicious oak-treatment of up to 24 months to give their Merlot wine more structure.

California, Australia, Argentina

A classic example of hot climate Merlot is California Merlot, such as Paso Robles and Napa Valley.

The Stemmy Taste In Some Merlot happens during grape ripening and is because of vigorous leafy vine canopies. Pruning helps but causes thin-skinned Merlot grapes to shatter in the sun!
chicken Poulet en papillote merlot food pairing
Try an herbed Chicken en papillote with a lighter alcohol fruit-forward Merlot. by ipalatin

Merlot Food Pairing

Merlot wine matches with a wide variety of foods because of its position in the middle of the red wine spectrum. In general Merlot pairs well with chicken and other light meats as well as lightly-spiced dark meats. With medium tannin and not too much acidity you’ll find Merlot pairs well with many foods.

Juicy, cooler-climate Merlot wines pair well with roasted vegetables. You can even pair harder-to-match veggies such as tomatoes.

Some of the best proteins to match with Merlot are in the middle-weight category. Think roast duck, turkey, and lean cuts of beef.

When it comes to Merlot, it’s all about the sauce. Try it with Beef Bourguignon.

Pro Merlot Pairing Tip
Higher alcohol and more oak-aging generally means the Merlot is richer and full-bodied, thus it pairs with richer foods.

Jordan Winery merlot vineyards in napa valley during bud break
Merlot vineyard in Alexander Valley during bud break. Jordan Vineyards blog

7 Fun Facts About Merlot Wine

The Most Planted Variety in France
Forget acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon grapes of Bordeaux and high-priced Pinot Noir of Burgundy, Merlot wine is currently the most planted grape variety in France.
Who’s Your Daddy?
Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc (the father) and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes (the mother).
Harder to Grow Than Cabernet!
Merlot is a thin-skinned grape that is very sensitive to its environment. Merlot grapes do have one benefit over Cabernet: they ripen up to 2 weeks earlier. On a rainy harvest, one week can make a big difference!
Major Player in Italy

Merlot is Italy’s 5th most planted grape. Merlot is popular in the IGT wines of Toscana commonly referred to as “Super Tuscans”
The Blind Tasting Tell on Merlot
Because Merlot wine is so sensitive to light, Merlot based wines tinge orange on the rim. The orange rim is the telltale sign of Merlot vs. Cabernet Sauvignon.
$1,870 For a Bottle of Merlot?!

Yep. Believe it or not, the most famous Right-Bank Bordeaux called Chateau Petrus is mostly Merlot.
American Oak Does Wonders
A few producers are using American Oak to make their Merlot wines rustic and rich like a Cabernet Sauvignon. Find out more about the different types of oak-aging if you’re curious.



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