Wine Style Focus: Merlot

A deep, sensuous shade in the glass; a grape that offers up a fruity bouquet; the most accessible of the red wines. Merlot is all of these things and more: it is one of the most widely planted and popular varietal grapes and is enjoying some time in the spotlight after being overshadowed by its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon for decades.

Merlot is one of the classic grapes in the Bordeaux blend, where it provides a mellow and fruity backdrop to Cabernet’s powerful intensity. Bordeaux’s winning combination and growing techniques have been emulated around the world, from cool, moist New Zealand to warm California, but more and more vineyards are offering up fine examples of 100% Merlot wines. At their simplest these wines are very enjoyable, with dark, fruity notes such as plum and berries immediately prevalent. Some more complex aged examples incorporate oak flavors such as vanilla and tobacco and have more tannin. Merlot is often described as being “round” or “soft” due to its naturally low acid and tannin contents. The fruit grows best in clay soils and benefits from intentionally keeping yields low. Merlot is a very adaptable grape, but growers must balance temperature and picking time delicately to ensure the ripe, fruity flavors most often desired from the wine.

Due to the lack of tannins and acidity, Merlot can easily be overpowered by strong cheeses or spicy Thai and Indian foods; try it instead with seafood like Salmon, Mahi Mahi, or shellfish, and greens or mushroom-based side dishes.