Although it originated in France’s Bordeaux region in the 1st century, Merlot has only recently come into its own worldwide. A close relative of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is less tannic and astringent, giving it a softer, fruitier taste. Merlot's medium- to full-body and earthy aroma and flavor—primarily plum and black cherry with a hint of chocolate—make it pair well with a variety of rich, flavorful, hearty appetizers, meats, side dishes and desserts.
Pair Merlot with starters like hearty vegetable soups, meat-stuffed mushrooms, seasoned roasted bell peppers, hearty potato skins and rich Italian olives. Cheese trays featuring sharp varieties such as brie, blue cheese, medium or sharp cheddar, Gouda, sliced parmesan, smoked provolone and Monterey jack also work well. Tart fruits like prunes, apricots and red grapes, as well as fruits served in rich, heavy syrup, like pears, also complement Merlot.
Because of their shared heartiness, Merlot and venison or beef go hand-in-hand, whether it's steak, prime rib, kabobs, stew, veal or burgers. Other red meats, such as lamb, pork, duck and goose, also pair well with Merlot. White meats that match well with Merlot include chicken, pheasant or game hen dishes that are covered with heavy or spicy sauces. Flavorful Italian sausages and salamis, rich salmon and tuna dishes and meat pizzas with zesty tomato-based sauces are also a hit.
Pastas and Sides
Lasagnas and pastas smothered in hearty meat sauces or heavy, creamy sauces like Alfredo and Bolognese pair well with Merlot. Spicy rice and bean dishes, seasoned sautéed vegetables, broccoli and asparagus covered in rich cheddar sauce, and stuffed or fried eggplant work as well. You can also complement Merlot with a garden salad covered in a rich, creamy dressing.
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Chocolate best complements the plum and cherry flavors of Merlot. Chocolate soufflé, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake, double chocolate chip cookies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cream pie, triple chocolate brownies, chocolate truffles or a simple chocolate bar offer sweet richness that pairs well with Merlot. When it comes to Merlot and chocolate, the possibilities are endless.
A Montana native currently living in northern Idaho, Lee Lamb has spent more than 15 years working for and writing about the great outdoors and the West. Her articles have appeared in "Montana Outdoors" magazine, "Bugle: Elk Country and the Hunt" magazine and "Montana Magazine." She holds a B.A. in journalism and a B.S. in wildlife biology from the University of Montana.