Merlot. What a great name for a wine. It just flows off the tongue and makes you thirsty for more. A soft, fruity wine with a deep red color, it’s easy to drink by itself while easily pairing with a range of food.
Merlot is the second most planted grape, right behind Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, these two wines are practically tied at the vine together, given they are offspring of Cabernet Franc. These great wines are blended together to form the coveted Bordeaux wine from France.
There is a river that flows through Bordeaux. Merlot is grown on the right bank where it thrives in the clay soil. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the left bank, which is composed of mostly gravel soil. As such, Right Bank Bordeaux is a blend of Merlot (70-80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30-20%). Vice versa for the Left Bank Bordeaux, which is a blend of Cab (70-80%) and Merlot (30-20%). Of course, the blend usually includes a touch of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and maybe a few other choice reds as the winemakers see fit.
Merlot is also a big player in Italian Super Tuscan wine. This again is a blended red wine that features Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and/or Syrah in varying percentages. Super Tuscan is actually the product of rebellious winemakers who didn’t want to be bound by the old Italian winemaking laws. Out of the rebellion was born a new Italian wine classification for these head-turning wines called Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Merlot is grown around the world and these are the top regions. We’ll focus on the first 4 regions. France and Italy will feature Merlot as a blend, while California and Washington will feature Merlot as a single varietal.
- France – Bordeaux region
- Italy – Tuscany
Pick up a bottle from each region and taste them side-by-side. Remember, if you can’t find these selections, just look for a Merlot or Merlot dominant blends from these regions with a decent rating (80 and above) at your price point.
Chateau Roquevieille Cotes de Castillon, 2014
Varietal: 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
Winery: Chateau Roguevieille
Rating: 90pts Wine Spectator
Avg Price: $22
Tenuta Luce Della Vite “Lucente” Toscana IGT
Varietal: 75% Merlot and 25% Sangiovese
Winery: Luce Della Vite
Rating: 93pts James Suckling
Avg price: $13
Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot 2016
Appellation: Sonoma County
Winery: Alexander Valley Vineyards
Avg price: $20
Chateau Ste Michelle Merlot, Indian Wells 2015
Appellation: Columbia Valley
Winery: Chateau Ste Michelle
Rating: 90pts Wine Enthusiast
Avg Price: $14
Now that you have your Merlot, it’s time to taste!
Just follow these three steps to become familiar with Merlot and Merlot blends from each region.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Take note of the opacity levels. If you place your fingers between the glass and the napkin, how easily can you see them? These are all tells of what kind of wine you are drinking.
TASTING PROFILE: Deep red in color.
Let’s see how aromatic Merlot is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: This is not an aromatic grape. You’ll have to stick your nose in the glass to catch scents like black cherry and plum.
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Black cherry, raspberry, plum, vanilla, toast
Acidity: Medium acidity (This is tartness in the wine and hits underneath the back of your tongue and throat.)
Tannin: Medium tannin. (This is bitterness that comes from the grape skins.)
Oak: Medium oak.
Body: Medium to full body. (This is how heavy or full the wine is. Think water vs. milk.)
Easy Rating System
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me
Merlot pairs well with red meats and red sauces.
- Red meats: steak, short ribs, lamb, cured meats
- White meats: chicken, pork
- Red sauces and pasta
- Root vegetables: potatoes, carrots
- Smoked Cheddar
- Blue Cheese
Congrats! You’ve decoded Merlot. Share your accomplishment with your friends!