Happy Merlot Day! And with the cooler fall weather setting in, what a perfect time to celebrate! Let’s have some fun and get into what makes this grape variety one of the most popular in the world!
As many of you know, Merlot has its roots firmly planted in France, where it is named after a local Medoc bird Merlau. Its earliest mention was in the late 18th century, and is one of the original six grapes of Bordeaux along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot. And much like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot’s father grape is Cabernet Franc, with its mother being a grape called Magdeleine Noire.
These days (and as early at the mid 1800’s) Merlot is most closely associated with the right bank of Bordeaux, most notably the primary grape in the legendary Chateau Petrus. Although other countries have adopted it as a superstar as well – it is now Italy’s 5th most planted grape variety, and with a stable of 3,000+ indigenous grapes to choose from, that no small feat!
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine for this grape. Cheap commercial production has given Merlot a bad name in terms of quality, with that negativity reaching into, and being furthered by parts of Hollywood (we’re looking at you, Sideways). If you’re interested in trying Merlot of a higher quality (not necessarily higher priced mind you), try hovering in that $15-$20 range.
For a classic, cooler climate build, try the right bank of Bordeaux, and if you’re not afraid to spend a bit more, look for areas like St. Emilion and Pomerol. You’ll find classic notes of earth, tobacco, and tar, with more pronounced tannins – and don’t forget the steak. If you’re looking for something a bit more fun and approachable, try a warmer climate like California, where areas like Paso Robles and Napa Valley produce wines that are juicy, quite often oaky, and with less tannins, these can be more drinkable on their own with less worry about food pairings. But, like France, if you’re not worried much about money, look for labels like Pahlmeyer, Schafer, Hall, and Duckhorn Vineyards.
And remember, one of the most overlooked aspects of drinking wine is the serving temperature. When you reach into your cooler (preferably an Avintage wine cabinet), make sure it comes out between 58-60 degrees Fahrenheit!