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In Good Taste

Introduction to Merlot

Introduction to Merlot

Merlot - Once Almost Extinct

Merlot is often recommended as one of the best options for anyone trying red wines for the first time because of its soft, ripe, and elegant flavors. Made from a dark-blue colored grape of the same name, Merlot delivers rich, robust flavors that include cherries and chocolate. Whether you’re a beginner, a seasoned wine lover, or somewhere in between, how could you not love flavors like those? 

History of Merlot

The name “Merlot” is derived from the French word for blackbird, “merle.” Its history is surprisingly complicated as diseases and natural events almost wiped out new Merlot plantings in France in 1956. When vintners tried to replant later, the vines were destroyed by rot, leading the French government to ban planting Merlot vines. 

In 1975, the government lifted the ban, and Merlot planting resumed. Today it sells widely around the world and is the second most planted varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon.

History of Merlot Wines

The name "merlot" is derived from the French word for Blackbird, "merle"
In 1956, diseases and natural events almost wiped out new Merlot plantings in France
When vintners tried to replant later, the vines were destroyed by rot, leading the French government to ban planting Merlot vines
In 1975, the government lifted the and the plant Merlot vines, and Merlot planting resumed

Is Merlot a Varietal or a Blend?

In the late 1700s, a Bordeaux-based winemaker added Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to his wine blend. Because Merlot brings a rich, fruity flavor and softens the Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it made for a delightful, new red wine blend. 

When this wine blend came to California in the mid-1800s, winemakers turned it into a 100% Merlot, and it became a varietal wine of its own. 

The Taste of Merlot

Merlot is loved for its easy adaptability and soft, velvety texture. With notes of plum, oak, graphite, black cherries, and cocoa, it’s also a dry, medium to full-bodied wine with moderate to high alcohol content, moderate acidity, and soft tannins, all of which combine to make it easy to drink. When the Merlot is aged in oak, you’ll also pick up hints of cedar, vanilla, and clove. 

Merlot Around the World

Merlot grapes that are grown in warm climates (Australia, Argentina, California) render its wine heavier on fruit but lighter on tannins. Some winemakers choose to age the wine for up to 24 months in oak barrels.

Merlot grapes grown in cooler climates (France, Italy, Chile) have a higher concentration of tannins, which can add to the wine’s complexity by giving it earthy flavors like tobacco and tar

Merlot Wine Growing Regions

Currently, most of the world’s Merlot is produced in the following regions:

  • France, Italy, and some countries in Eastern Europe
  • Canada, Mexico, and United States (Washington and California) in North America
  • Chile and Argentina in South America

What is White Merlot?

White Merlot is sometimes considered a bridge between dry white wines and sweeter Rosé wines. Unlike varietal Merlot, where grapes are macerated and kept with their skins for 2-3 weeks, White Merlot grapes’ maceration lasts only a few hours, after which the skins are removed. The result is a berry-flavored, pink-colored wine with low tannin levels.

Merlot vs. Pinot Noir 

Compared to Merlot, Pinot Noir has a lighter color but a more intense flavor with medium to high acidity. Due to that robust flavor profile, Pinot Noir is less likely to be blended with other wines. 

Merlot’s color is the darker of the two red wines, and it offers milder taste and aroma notes of blackberry, blueberry, and plum. Due to its soft texture and flavor, Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. 

Merlot vs. Cabernet Sauvignon 

Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot’s chocolate and cherry flavors go with almost anything from cheeseburgers to steak. Winemakers also love Merlot because it doesn’t require a lot of aging to taste great.

Cabernet Sauvignon has a drier, more aggressive feel due to its high tannin content. With black cherry, green pepper, and vanilla notes, this wine can be harder to pair with a broad range of foods, but still remains an extremely popular wine in its own right. 

Related: Guide to Red Wine

Storing and Serving Merlot

Merlot is best served slightly cool—but not as chilled as other red wines. With its ideal temperature at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving it uncorked at room temperature for about 30 minutes will soften the tannins and allow the wine’s distinctive flavors to come forward. If you need to cool Merlot quickly, putting the bottle on ice for 10-20 minutes will work well. 

It’s also best sipped from a Bordeaux or red wine glass, as the bigger glass allows for space between the taster's nose and the wine for the full wine tasting experience.

Related: Which Wines to Chill Before Drinking

How to Serve or Drink Merlot Wine

How to Drink Merlot

To properly sip your Merlot, follow the See. Swirl. Smell. Sip. Savor. method. 

See. If at a restaurant, check your Merlot’s label to make sure it’s the vintage you ordered. Next, note the clarity and color of your wine. Even though the red colors can vary from wine to wine, clarity is always important. Cloudy wine may be an indication something went wrong in the winemaking process or during storage. 

Swirl. Pour 1-2 ounces of wine into you glass, and give your glass a little swirl. (If you’re dining out, your server should do this for you.) Swirling the wine aerates it, which unleashes the wine’s natural aromas and flavors. 

Smell. This step may feel strange at first—especially if you’re new to wine—but raise the glass to you nose and take a nice, long whiff. What aromas do you notice in the Merlot? You should pick up fruity aromas, spices, and floral notes, but you should also make sure you don’t smell anything unpleasant like a moldy or vinegary scent. 

Sip. Take a small but adequate sip, 1-2 ounces should be plenty. Swish the sip around in your mouth so that the Merlot coats your taste buds. Let the wine linger for a moment before you swallow. This will give you a chance to experience the full spectrum of flavors. 

Savor. Think about the first sip. What flavor notes did you pick up? Was there anything that you found especially enjoyable? Now that you know what to look forward to, it’s time to enjoy the rest of your glass!

What To Pair with Merlot

Although Merlot can go with almost anything from casual to fine dining, light-colored meats such as chicken and lightly-spiced dark meats are popular options to pair with Merlot. 

You can also enjoy pairings like roast duck, lean cuts of beef, turkey, and Beef Bourguignon made with Merlot. That’s right; we highly encourage you to enjoy your Merlot with a little more Merlot. The more Merlot, the merrier!

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The Vine Voyage bundle will remind you why France and Italy are two of the most well-known, wine-producing countries in the world. Take your senses to the European countryside with Montepulciano, Rosé of Sangiovese, and Nerello Cappuccio.

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Barbera

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Montepulciano

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Red Wine

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Côtes du Rhône White

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This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

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Bordeaux Rouge

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Ventoux Rosé

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You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

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Tempranillo

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Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.

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Grenache

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Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they’re low in alcohol, medium bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we’re in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera is the perfect marriage of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a ladies who lunch kind of afternoon.

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Vermentino

Wild Child

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Viognier

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