One of the world’s most-favored red wines, Merlot is classified as a Cabernet and is made from Merlot grapes, which are grown in vineyards around the world, including France’s Bordeaux region, Italy, South America, Australia and in the United States’ Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Washington State and Texas. The smooth, fruity characteristics of Merlot wine make it a premier choice among seasoned wine hobbyists as well as a popular introductory wine for new tasters.
Larger than other wine-making grapes, the Merlot grape is a black fruit that produces wine that is rich and opulent in color, ranging from a medium red to a deep ruby, as well as purple, dark blue and even black. Best when served just below room temperature, Merlot wine is usually presented in Bordeaux, high-shouldered bottles.
Aroma and Taste
A dry, medium-bodied wine with smooth tannins (the bitter chemicals in grapes that cause a wine’s dryness and are used in the aging process), Merlot is a blend of fruits, floral, vegetables, herbs and natural, earthy tastes and aromas that can range from mellow to robust. It is one of the few wines that might truly smell like grapes, reminding one of grape juice or grape jams and jellies. Other palate pleasers that may be apparent in Merlot include black cherry, plum, blueberry, blackberry, eucalyptus, dill, green bell pepper, currant, cedar, mint, tea-leaf, peppercorn, chocolate, vanilla, pine, rose or violet. Merlot is sometimes aged in oak to give it a smoky, woodsy flavor.
Merlot is a wine that compliments most all foods, from red, tomato-based pizza and pasta to prime rib and other fine cuts of beef. It is also recognized as an excellent companion to lamb dishes, as well as sharp cheeses, salads and chocolate. Because it is not as heavy as many other red wines, some people enjoy it with dishes that are frequently served with white wine, including duck, chicken and pork. Merlot is also a preferred ingredient of many cooks who use it in recipes that call for red wine, adding it to everything from chili to stews to meat marinades, sauces and seasonings. Its versatile nature allows it to be enjoyed at casual picnics as well as formal affairs.
Because the Merlot grape is lower in tannins, Merlot wine matures faster than other red wines. Like the majority of wines, though, Merlot is intended to be consumed within a few years of the vintage date, which is the year the grapes were harvested. The exception is a less expensive Merlot, typically one priced $12 or less a bottle, which is usually drank from the time it is purchased and up to one year. A Merlot between $12 and $25 a bottle may also be enjoyed upon purchase, but will likely improve with age and reach optimum flavor within five or six years of the vintage date. A Merlot priced at $25 and up a bottle can be expected to improve for up to 12 years, with some premium wines aging much longer.