Love Cabernet Sauvignon, but crave something more smooth, lush, and less aggressive? Go with Merlot. With upfront fruit flavors, moderate tannin, and balanced acidity, Merlot is an ideal food pairing wine and a safe bet for any occasion. Yes, it doesn’t command the respect that a bold Cabernet Sauvignon often does, but it doesn’t command the same price tag either, often leading to a better quality-value ratio. So, if you’ve been put off by cheap commercial interpretations or an off-hand Paul Giamatti quote from over 15 years ago, we strongly recommend revisiting a wine loved by beginners and experts alike.
Merlot Wine Facts
Grape Variety Facts
- Merlot is second-most planted grape in the entire world. (Cabernet Sauvignon is number one.)
- Merlot is the most planted variety in Bordeaux.
- Cabernet Franc is the father of Merlot, but do you know the mother? (it’s rare!) It’s Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, an old, esoteric variety discovered through DNA testing.
Did You Know?
- Merlot translates to “little blackbird” in an old regional French dialect.
- Petrus, one of the most highly coveted (and counterfeited) wines on this planet is made almost entirely of Merlot! Interested? This Bordeaux wine will run you somewhere between $2,000-$5,000 a bottle.
Merlot Taste Profile and Food Pairing
Expect your palate to be greeted with flavors of black cherry, plum, chocolate, dried herbs, and cedar. Most Merlot wines sit in the middle of the red wine spectrum, with medium levels of tannin, acidity, and alcohol. Exceptional Merlot wines are so bold, they can be confused for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ideal pairings include turkey, pork, root vegetables, winter salads, stews, and all manner of harvest foods. Avoid pairing Merlot with fish, leafy greens, or spicy foods, where it can either overwhelm or be overwhelmed.
Classic Merlot Regions
Great Merlot starts in Bordeaux. Some of the best examples come from The Right Bank, specifically appellations of St. Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac, where it is the dominant grape. Expect more tannin, as well as earthier, tobacco-like flavors from this region, which are unlike those from the New World. The other classic place to look for this variety is in the North Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), which includes both Sonoma and Napa Valley.
If you’re looking to move beyond the cool climate examples of Merlot in Bordeaux, consider Bordeaux-like Chile and Western Australia, or the warmer climes of Washington’s Columbia Valley. While there are some regional differences, you can generally expect more fruit, softer tannin, and a silkier texture when compared to the more full-bodied style of the classic regions.
Still too familiar? Try Italy, specifically Veneto and Tuscany. Merlot has a surprisingly large presence in the Italian Peninsula, although quality does vary. Definitely check out the Super Tuscans!
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