Today is National Merlot day. As such, we wanted to celebrate this much loved but oft overlooked grape by giving it a proper due. When it comes to Cab v. Merlot, Merlot always seems to end up a second place finisher, even though it’s got a blue ribbon taste. So we wanted to convince you today of all the days, to–if not give up that beloved Cabernet–at least give Merlot a try. It tastes a lot like the Cab (they were sired from the same parent grape, so they’re like half-siblings), but we think with it’s softness, roundness, and approachability, Merlot is going to delight and surprise you. And maybe, just maybe, even convert you.
A little history: merlot is a grape that was originally grown in 18th century Bordeaux. It took on the nickname, “the little blackbird,” because of its look and its flavor: black cherry, blackberry, plum, cassis, also some mocha, chocolate, and sometimes even a little letha (though the dominant tastes change depending on whether it’s been grown in a hot or cooler climate). Merlot quickly became favored for its ability to blend well and add softness and fleshiness and character to, you guessed it, cabernet sauvignon. From that discovery point on, merlot became one of the most popular grapes in Bordeaux (the turquoise region on the map), and is now the most planted grape in France.
As with most popular things, other regions around the world wanted to see what their terroirs would do with this grape. Of the warmer weather growers, Argentina, Australia and California, the latter has had the most luck with the grape, partly due to terroir, and partly due to the fact that Americans love the smoothness of the 100% Merlots coming from the region. Of the cooler climates, other than Bordeaux, be on the look out for Merlot from New York and Washington states, as well as Italy and Chile. They’re all doing amazing work, and you won’t go wrong with any of these merlot-region combos.
Merlot is also one of our favorite wines because it loves to be drunk with a variety of foods. Our favorite combinations are with chicken and meats, as well as Caesar salad for you non-meat eaters. Foods to stay away from are spicy foods or fish, it just doesn’t work. Below is an outstanding Merlot recipe guide, cribbed from the St. Francis Winery in Sonoma, California.
We hope this little history of merlot might sway you to give this excellent wine a try the next time you’re reaching for a bottle. And if you’re looking for something special, here’s a thorough run down of some of the world’s best Merlots from Wine Enthusiast.
We think the best way to discover Merlot is with, ahem, a WineNight. You’ll love our tastings, Vive la France! and Wine Made the Traditional Way, if you’re looking for a fun way to get together with friends and learn about Merlot.
In summary, the five reasons we think you ought to love and try Merlot (as opposed to Cab):
- Easy to drink
- Super smooth
- Pairs well with most foods
- The underdog