So many of you count on Cellar Angels to introduce you to the next best thing, and we love that! Sharing our insider knowledge about the untraveled roads and hidden treasures of Napa is definitely our sweet spot. But today, we’re going to spend a moment getting a little nostalgic over an old favorite; somewhat of an underdog in the court of public opinion these days, it seems. We’re here to tell you all of the reasons why we’re (still!) head-over-heels in love with this wine, Merlot.
If you recall the sleeper hit movie Sideways from the early aughts, you remember the lead character Miles and his deep disdain for Merlot. He dedicated his trip to the pursuit of Pinot Noir instead. Miles had issues. A lot of them. And we think his, ahem, one-sidedness on the topic of Merlot was among them, without question. We discussed how Merlot went Sideways with Vintner Kenny Kahn of Blue Rock Vineyard on an episode of SIP Virtual Wine Tasting & Education, watch it below to learn about it.
The Magic of Merlot Wines
Merlot is particularly a good wine for beginner wine drinkers because of how diverse it is. It is used as a blending grape, it is the main character of Right Bank Bordeaux blends, and it can also stand alone as a single varietal wine. That’s a lot of Merlot to explore and practice with. Open a bottle and read on to learn as you sip.
Merlot red wine gets its name from the word merle, French for little Blackbird. Made from deep, garnet red fruit, some of the world’s most famous and sought-out wines are made with Merlot grapes. In fact, Merlot grapes are considered one of the three noble grapes in the professional wine world. Not too shabby!
Merlot also possesses a pretty notable pedigree: it’s a direct offspring of Cabernet Franc grapes and shares some biology with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, as well. These are all pretty big-bodied grapes, so with knowledge of Merlot’s heritage, perhaps you’re starting to understand the heady, fruit-forward qualities that a Merlot grape will bring to the table.
Merlot grapes historically are most commonly found in Bordeaux wine growing regions, particularly the Right Bank. The Right Bank includes two main Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOCs), Pomerol and St Emilion. Some famous New World wine regions producing Merlot include but are not limited to: Paso Robles, Napa Valley and Sonoma in California; Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Valley in Washington state; Long Island in New York; Colchagua and Maule Valley of Chile; and many regions in Australia. They grow in loose bunches with big, round berries and are often used as a blending grape, which means it joins other grape varieties to produce a red wine blend. They thrive in cool weather and prefer to be grown in clay.
Styles of Merlot Wines
There tend to be two main styles of Merlot – and they’re both dry wines. (Sweet merlots are rare.) International Style Merlots – made most often in the Americas – are created by harvesting the fruit when it’s at its absolute ripest. This gives the wine a warm, bountiful mouth feel that’s smooth with tannins and robust with blackberry fruit and plum. This is a bold statement wine, to be sure. These wines can be referred to as “New World” style Merlot.
Traditional Style Merlots are made by harvesting the fruit much earlier; creating a lighter and more acidic wine that shows off fresh red fruit flavors like raspberry and strawberry and the occasional leafy note. You might consider these traditional style–or Old World– Merlots to be more in keeping with the lighter body of a Pinot Noir. Perhaps more versatile for everyday drinking.
Serving Tips for Merlot
Serving temperature suggestions for Merlot? Because it’s a dry red wine, it should be served slightly chilled, 60-65 degrees.
If you’re wondering if Merlot is the right pairing for your next meal, consider those cool temperatures that Merlot grapes enjoy growing in so much. As a rule of thumb, the region that a grape grows in can give you some good direction in terms of food pairings when you consider the traditional foods of the same region. When looking for a perfect Merlot pairing, think about a hearty meal that you would enjoy in cooler temps such as a roast chicken, a beef stew, or a pasta tossed with bacon and root vegetables as a jumping-off point.
How To Find the best Merlot
Merlots are delicious and there’s very little to fear when trying to buy the best Merlot wine. With one caveat: Merlot is the second-most-planted grape in the world. There’s a glut of Merlot fruit that appeals to larger wine makers. Mass-produced Merlots can be somewhat forgettable, so we would think twice before buying a Merlot that you might find in a traditional big box chain grocery store. Instead, visit your most esteemed local wine shop for the best options. And, as ever, count on Cellar Angels to point you in the right direction for extraordinary little-known and under-the-radar Merlots. They call us Angels for a reason! We’re here to help introduce you to the most wonderful bottles coming out of Wine Country and Merlots are certainly no exception.