Some people say Merlot is just a lighter version of Cabernet Sauvignon, but I disagree. Merlot to me has always been cherries dipped in bittersweet chocolate. Lush and silky, this wine can be quite the seductress.
California and New Zealand are notable producers of this noble red wine. In France, it is often blended with other grapes to produce the marvellous Bordeaux wines. Chile is gaining a lot of momentum lately with their take on Merlot, and they offer a lot of value for the quality they are producing.
Many regions, particularly Australia and Canada, blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce something called Cabernet Merlot. Cabernet Merlot combines Cabernet Sauvignon’s masculinity with Merlot’s charming plushness. This is an excellent blend for banquet meals as it combines a lot of different flavours that people seem to enjoy in a wine.
While expensive variations exist, Merlot is not overly costly. There are many fantastic bottles out there for between $10 and $15. Although some bottles, such as the Merlot-dominant Chateau Petrus, from the right bank of Bordeaux, may run you well over $1,000.
When to serve Merlot
Merlot is great for cocktail parties as long as it isn’t overly bold (depending on the region – Colder Climate Merlots, such as those from France and Italy can make for some Bold, almost Cabernet Sauvignon like Merlot). You want enough flavour to keep people entertained without distracting them too much from the party at hand. For a cocktail party wine should be like background music in that it is pleasant, and a great conversation starter. Wines that are too bold would be the equivalent of a hard rock band playing in the background.
Merlot is also perfect for banquets and events. It tends to be medium bodied and middle of the road (all though you will get various renditions that will stray in either direction) so it appeases the majority. Merlot isn’t also very expensive so if you are entertaining a lot of people, it won’t break the bank.
Common Flavours of Merlot:
Blackberry, Mulberry, Cassis, Plum, Black or Red Cherry, Bell Pepper, Rhubarb, Eucalyptus, Oregano Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Pine, Black Tea, Truffle, Cedar, Dill Weed, Coffee Bean, Mocha, Cocoa, Maple, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Smoke, Tar, Leather
Notable Producers of Merlot:
Argentina: Catena Zapata
Australia: Nugan Estate Cabernet/Merlot
Canada: Chateaux des Charmes, Inniskillin, Pelee Island Cabernet/Merlot
Chile: Casa del Rio Verde, Nimbus, Ravanal Caballo Dorado
South Africa: Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush
USA: Beringer, Butterfield Station, Dog House, Hart and McGarry, Robert Mondavi
New Zealand: Oyster Bay
Merlot Goes Great With:
Duck is a rich food that can stand up to a powerful wine, which makes Merlot a great match, especially if was grown in a cooler climate such as France, Italy or Chile. Cool climate Merlot will have a higher presence of tannin, and an earthier flavour which will go great with duck. However, if the duck has a fruit reduction sauce, a warmer climate Merlot (one from Argentina, California or Australia) may be a better choice as it is leans on the fruit forward side (and have less tannin, making for a silky wine) which will complement the fruit sauce.
For this pairing, try an Itallian or French Merlot, which will have more herbal (rosemary, anise) flavours that will go nice with the tomato sauce. Merlot and Peperoni Pizza isn’t an amazing pairing (the pizza somewhat diminishes the wine when you take a sip), but it is quite pleasant pairing.
We love a California Merlot or Argentina Merlot with Meatloaf as it has a soft tannin and fruity youthfulness that goes well with any sauce that glazes the meatloaf.
You’ll want a medium bodied Merlot for Chicken, as it isn’t a heavy meat. Try a Merlot from California or Argentina for this pairing.
Fruit forward Merlot cover up the gaminess of Rabbit, while an earthy and full bodied Merlot may enhance or complement the rabbit flavours. Personally we prefer the fruitier Merlot style.