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Merlot

An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture

An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. While popular culture has in recent years lent Merlot undeserved poor reputation, one simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand its status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc, and on the Left Bank, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.

In the Glass

Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry, and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco, and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused. Oak aging may add a hint of vanilla or sweet baking spice.

Perfect Pairings

Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.

Sommelier Secret

If you saw the 2004 film Sideways, you probably recall the derision with which Miles frequently speaks of Merlot. What you may not have realized was that the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc which he ends up drinking out of a paper cup in a fast food restaurant—is made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. No one could have predicted that well over a decade later, Merlot would still be suffering from a PR crisis as a result, but here we are. The variety was extremely easy to sell in the 1990s and some producers indeed had gotten lazy with quality. But the fact remains that Merlot has always been capable of producing some of the world's finest wines, and now it is time to observe and enjoy its comeback.

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  • Domaines Barons de Rothschild Legende Saint Emilion 2013
    Merlot from St. Emilion, Bordeaux, France
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