All about Merlot
Perfect for the first-time wine drinker or white wine enthusiast, Merlot is ideal for those looking to branch out into the world of reds. Like many other varietals, Merlot got its start in the Bordeaux region of France during the 18th century from its descendants Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. While Merlot saw a huge explosion of growth in parts of California in the early 2000’s, Hollywood, California was one place that nearly took it off the map. Thanks in part to a rise in pop-culture, Merlot saw a dramatic shift in popularity with the 2004 movie “Sideways” and its famous line, “…if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.” While this movie turned a generation of people away, Merlot has steadily been overcoming its hardships with high-tier, quality wines that are becoming some of the most prized around the world.
Merlot’s structure includes a nice full body and rich fruit taste combined with reduced acidity and low tannins. It is known for its deep, dark ruby-blue colors, with a range of fresh aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, violets, plum, chocolate, and raspberry. When aged in oak barrels, notes of vanilla or cinnamon can also come forth. Cooler climates can see higher tannins, muted fruits and more earthy flavors appear, while warmer climates bring out a vibrant fruitiness to your palate. Due to its closeness in taste, Merlot is a fantastic blending partner with other Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Typically used most as a varietal for blending, Merlot is one of the most popular forms of wine. It is planted in nearly every wine-producing country throughout the world including top producers like Italy, France, Chile, Spain, Australia and California. Merlot is known for its ease of growth and adaptability to all climates, while also tending to take on the characteristics of its surroundings. In growing regions like Italy and France, Merlot showcases those higher tannic levels and reduced fruit notes. Chile and California tend to bring out the smoother tannins and fruits that burst of flavor. This geographic versatility has even led Merlot to be called a “Chameleon Wine.” Some other popular regions domestically include Paso Robles, Washington State, and Lake County, California.
Merlot has the widest range of variety from any red wine, making it the perfect wine to experiment with. Merlot has the body and richness to accompany a heavy steak dinner, while the low tannic structure ensures to not overwhelm even the most delicate of dishes. Lighter-bodied Merlots tend to go well with poultry, pork, and even burgers and pizza. More full-bodied and higher alcohol Merlots tend to pair well with beef, lamb or game meats. Merlot’s fruitiness is also fantastic for cooking those red wine reduction sauces.
When it comes to food pairings, our wine expert Dave Malone explains, “…while I would certainly pair a Merlot with grilled beef, I might opt for a cut that is less fatty, such as Filet Mignon. A pairing that I especially love for Merlot is a skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. For me, the acidity of the Merlot and softer tannins mesh well with this dish.”
Already in love with Merlot? Here are some other varietals you should try based on your taste.
If you love Merlot as much as we do, then you need to try some of our favorites and some alternatives that will please any Merlot lover. For those hunting a good value in Merlot, ABC carries an outstanding selection of under $20 Merlot-dominant blends from the famed region of Bordeaux, France. The options here are seemingly limitless, but our top picks include Château Manoir du Gravoux, La Violette du Manoir or Chateau Feret-Lambert. For a special occasion, look no further than Napa Valley. Brands, such as Duckhorn, Stewart and Switchback Ridge make stunning examples of this variety. Looking to branch out to different styles? A wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley or a Malbec from Mendoza is sure to please.