This week we’ll look at one of the world’s most versatile wine grapes, and its food-friendly wines that can range from $5.99 to $1,999.99 per bottle.
Try a new wine this week!
Merlot remains one of the top three best selling grape varieties in the country, rivaled only cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Though it can be found in every price range, some of the world’s greatest wines are made from this grape. Well known examples include Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, which sells for hundreds of dollars per bottle, and Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards.
Some years ago, merlot’s new-gained popularity caused sales to soar, which caused shortages. This brought too many people into the merlot business, and a lot of bad merlot was in the market for years. This culminated in merlot being foully dissed in the pinot noir movie “Sideways.” Today it has come full cycle, as a more discerning wine market has caused much of the bad merlot to fall by the wayside while a new generation of rich, full, well-made merlot has taken its place.
Merlot was long considered a blending grape in its native home of Bordeaux, France, but there cabernet sauvignon is a blending grape, too. On the “Left Bank” (home of Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild and Margaux), the firmer, cabernet-based wines are softened with a little merlot. On the cooler “Right Bank” (St. Emilion), the suppler merlot wine is given extra “backbone” with varying percentages of cabernet sauvignon and it’s earlier ripening cousin, cabernet franc. Today this practice of blending is routine in California as well. Many current Napa Valley releases are described as “Right Bank Blends”.
Being naturally less tannic, merlot is smoother than cabernet, so many people making the transition from white wine to red prefer it. It pairs well with pretty much the same foods as cabernet (steaks, etc.). If you’re serving two wines with one course, it can work well to pour a merlot in front of a cabernet sauvignon.
The best merlot tends to come from cooler areas. That’s one reason that you don’t see as many from Australia and Argentina. Good values can be found from Chile, and there are many options from California and Washington. Merlot has been grown in northern Italy for centuries, having been brought there by the French.
Conde de Velazquez Merlot, from high-altitude vineyards on Chile’s Mt. Aconcagua, shows the intense flavor and smooth, food-friendly drinkability of a good merlot. It retails for around $8.99.