Merlot is less well-known than Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir but can produce complex and long-lasting wines. There are plenty of boring, over-cropped Merlots that are excessively oaky and fruity. But the best Merlots are utterly mouth-watering. You don’t need to spend thousands on a Chateau Petrus to enjoy the experience. (Although, if you can afford it, go ahead!) Whether from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, or anywhere, Merlot can be significant. It’s always a matter of knowing where to look.
What is Merlot Wine?
Merlot is a red wine made from grapes of the same name. It can be fruity and sweet, with oak, or more nuanced and structured, and it can age for many decades. For a whole generation of wine lovers, Merlot was associated with cheap and cheerful bottles, which were meant to be aged for about as long as the drive home after the supermarket. The stereotypes are not the whole story. Merlot is a critical component in many of the Bordeaux blends. It is used to make wines, or blends (usually with Cab Franc), that are among the best in the world. Merlot is a great grape and deserves to be regarded as such.
Where does Merlot wine come from?
Merlot is a grape grown and produced primarily in Bordeaux and California. It is the fifth most popular permitted variety in the former, along with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. On the Right Bank, it reaches its highest quality and expression. In Pomerol (home of Chateau Peter), where it is a famous wine, you can find it at retail, auction, and restaurant lists. Merlot is also a great seller in St.-Emilion, a neighboring region. The wine labeled Bordeaux Superieur is an excellent example of this.
They can also make great wines on their own. In California, you’ll find many examples of Merlot-based wines. They can also make excellent wines by themselves; you’ll find many Merlot-based wines in California. Tuscany also produces world-class Merlot. Wines like Massetto’s Ornellaia and Antinori Il Bruciato are among the best. Merlot is also produced in Australia’s McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Chile, Argentina, Washington State, and other places.
Why should you drink Merlot wine?
It’s an excellent time to try Merlot if you last did so a while ago. Merlot had a “grape variety meltdown” during the mid-2000s. Its low point was probably reached in the movie Sideways where Paul Giamatti said to his friend before entering a restaurant: “No, if anyone orders Merlot, then I’m going.” I am NOT drinking Merlot !”). In the 20 years that have passed, producers worldwide have increased their efforts to plant Merlot at more ideal locations, not overcrop it, and make it the severe wine its fans knew it could produce. Merlot is making a comeback as a famous wine in America.
Merlot’s plush texture and tannins are often soft, making it ideal for sipping. Merlot is also a great food wine. Merlot is an excellent wine for classic foods like hamburgers and steak. But the plums and dark berries in a Merlot are also a perfect complement to fruit-based sauces that go well with lamb or duck. Merlot pairs well with gouda and cheddar, which have a subtle sweetness enhanced by the Merlot’s ripe fruit. If you’re pairing Merlot with a strong blue cheese or washed-rind cheese, be careful. Tannins will work better with these cheeses than Port and Sauternes (although red Burgundy works with Epoisses). Merlot pairs well with chocolate. Just ensure there’s enough cacao in it, and don’t add too much sugar. Merlot’s range of styles, expressions, and flavors makes it more versatile than many people realize.
What does Merlot taste like?
Notes of currants and cherries characterize Merlot. There are often hints of dried herbs, such as sage. If it has been aged in oak or with a certain percentage of oak, it will take on flavors and aromas similar to chocolate, vanilla, and cafe mocha. Merlot can take on characteristics such as leather, cigar tobacco, dried mint, and leather. The tannins of Merlot can range from velvety and medium-grained to assertive. This is especially true for wines meant to be aged.
Drinking Merlot at a slightly warmer temperature than the cellar is best. If your wine is kept at 55degF, you should enjoy it approximately 20 minutes after removing it from the basement. It’s best to place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes if it is kept at room temperature. This will bring out both the fruity aromas and acidity. The best way to enjoy Merlot is in a Cabernet Sauvignon or universal glass.
Five Merlot Wines to Try
Merlot is available in a wide variety of styles. These five producers are listed alphabetically and will help you get started exploring the many Merlot wines available.
Chateau Lassegue, based in St.Emilion on the Right Bank, produces two outstanding reds, Les Cadrans, and their eponymous Grand Vin. The flagship wine blends Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. It’s not only a great value, but it also has excellent fruit and winemaking. The current release, 2018, is around $60 and has brambly plums and brambly berries. It’s a wine that can be enjoyed immediately but also ages well in the cellar.
The first Napa Valley producer to produce Merlot, which was widely acclaimed as one of the best wines on the market. Duckhorn makes various wines and Merlot expressions, but the Three Palms Vineyard is one of their perennial favorites. The 2019 features mountain berries wrapped in chocolate ganache, a perfectly calibrated vanilla, and a finish that promises years of development.
This well-known Paso Robles winemaker crafted his 2019 with 51% Cabernet and 49% Merlot. The result is a wine containing cigar humidors, cherries, currants, and plums. It’s sweetly spiced and infused with vanilla and café mocha.
Le Macchiole “Messorio”
Bolgheri is home to a great producer who produces some outstanding wines. Messorio, a beautiful expression of Merlot, proves the Tuscan Coast can be just as exciting as Bordeaux’s Right Bank for this great grape variety. The 2018 Messorio sings an aria of blackberry liqueur and blackberry oils with kirsch and coffee. It will age beautifully for the next 30 years.
This iconic producer also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, which is highly acclaimed, but the 2018 Merlot from Mt. Veeder is phenomenal. This wine has sage and rosemary in it, as well as currants, blueberries, and violets. It is also framed with fine-grained tannins that have savory pencil lead notes. Enjoy it now or for at least the next 15 years.