All you need to know about Merlot: A quick guide
Ah yes… Merlot, the variety that is high in production, but not as popular as its friend Cabernet (they are actually related). I could blame the movie Sideways…
…which actually led to sour
The following guide will illustrate what Merlot tastes like (aroma, flavor, and structure). It will also tell you where it’s from, provide you with common food recommendations, similar varieties, and let you know why you should be drinking more of it!
How would I describe Merlot?
Merlot is a soft and approachable red wine. It tastes great with many different foods.
In general, Merlot has medium balanced acidity, alcohol, and tannin. This makes for a smooth and easy drinking wine experience.
Merlot is the most planted grape AND widely used variety in France. It is the second most planted grape in the USA. It is also the leading grape in some of the worlds most expensive wines.
What does Merlot taste like?
These are the most familiar tastes and aromas I typically find in a glass of Merlot. It’s also common to find strawberry, cranberry, herbs, tobacco, licorice and cola notes, depending upon where the wine is from and how it’s made. Remember, wine tastes are somewhat relative. There may be some different tasting notes you consistently find while drinking Merlot.
What about structure?
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to structure for every grape, however, there IS a general range when it comes to body, acid, alcohol, and tannin for each. Below are general guidelines for classic representations. Growing conditions and winemaking techniques can impact each of the following.
Medium Plus Body
You can judge acidity based on whether your mouth waters after you take a sip of something. The more you salivate, the higher the acid. Merlot is pretty smooth and doesn’t have overpowering acidity!
Medium Plus Alcohol
You can feel alcohol ‘burn’ the back of your throat when you take a sip. Merlot is not typically high in alcohol (although there are exceptions).
Where is Merlot from?
If you have ever tried a Bordeaux, you have tasted Merlot in there somewhere. Merlot is one of the six varietals allowed in Bordeaux blends. If it was a Right Bank Bordeaux, or wine produced on the right side of the Giaronde Estatuary (big river splitting Bordeaux in half), you were probably drinking a Merlot dominant Bordeaux!
Merlot from Bordeaux (Old World) is a little more savory than Merlot from California, or other New World regions. It will usually have less alcohol and more herbal notes.
Merlot from France will age for a long time. These are great wines to put away for a while and bring out for a special occasion!
You can also find wonderful Merlot from The USA, Italy, Argentina, Chile, and Australia.
What foods should I pair with Merlot?
Chicken is a little ‘tamer‘ than red meat and since Merlot has softer qualities, it tends to pair better with lighter meats.
Chicken doesn’t require a wine with high tannin or acidity to cut through any fat.
A simple burger and a glass of merlot pair wonderfully. Especially when you add cheese. The smokey, spicy flavors in Merlot equaly match the flavors in a burger.
Simple toppings are your best bet with Merlot. Be careful adding too many crazy flavors. If you do, you may want to consider a different wine.
Roasts and stews have some richness but are just mild enough to pair with a glass of Merlot. Many have savory flavors, similar to a glass of Merlot
What other similar varieties would I enjoy?
Cabernet Sauvignon has:
- more tannin
- more black fruit dominant
- typically more ‘green’ pyrazine elements
A Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine with a passion for everything wine + beverage!