Merlot wines are popular in the United States. Winemakers have used the merlot grape to produce both white and red merlots. Red wines have traditionally been decanted and served at room temperature, but experts are now counseling wine drinkers to chill not only white wines, but also red ones--including red merlots.
A Love Affair with Merlot
According to Food and Wine, the grape you'll most often find planted in France's vineyards is merlot. Not surprisingly, merlot wines also are favorites on the North American side of the Atlantic. "Americans have had a love affair with the Merlot grape for the past 15 years," Kevin Zraly wrote in Bon Appetit magazine in 2002.
In the United States, winemakers use merlot in both white wines, which have a faint pink tint, and red wines. White merlot first appeared in the Languedoc region of France, where winemakers were trying to develop a wine to compete with American white zinfandel. White merlot's rapid success spurred U.S. winemakers to try their hands at producing it as well. White merlot is an inexpensive wine, fine for sipping on a hot afternoon.
Red merlot, on the other hand, may well be the wine that partners most easily with food, from pates to hamburgers to cheeses. "It's easy to pronounce, has a medium fruit and acid balance, and has just enough tannin to make it complementary but not overwhelming to many dishes," Zraly wrote. "Merlot is soft, fruity, and easy to drink."
Should You Chill Merlot?
Just as you would other white wines, you should chill white merlot. It may surprise you to learn, however, that you should also cool your red merlot down before you pull the cork.
"Regardless of the season, red wines are often drunk too warm and white wines are usually drunk too cold," says Mike Steinberger in a 2007 article for Slate. "A red delivered to the table at room temperature—70 degrees or above—will seem alcoholic and flabby; the warmth saps the wine of its vigor. Conversely, serving white wines on the frigid side—say, below 50 or 55 degrees—tends to suppress their aromas and flavors."
How Long to Chill Merlot
Figuring out how long to chill your wine may seem a little daunting, but Food and Wine has published a "Wine-Chilling Cheat Sheet" by author Ray Isle that helps cut down on the guesswork.
Isle recommends that you chill white wines in the refrigerator for 3.5 hours, in the freezer for 30 minutes, or in an ice bucket for 20 minutes. You should cool your red wines off in the refrigerator for 45 minutes, in the freezer for 15, or in an ice bucket for 10 minutes.