Every November 7, lovers of this globally grown dark blue-colored grape come together to celebrate International Merlot Day. Getting a bad wrap in the 2004 book and movie, Sideways, Merlot’s reputation did take a slight hit, but is now one of the most popular red wines amongst consumers and is successfully produced in almost every country around the world. Utilized as a blending grape, Merlot is also used on its own in varietal wines.
One of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wines, Merlot is the most widely planted grape in this region. An early ripener, it produces a medium-bodied wine with intermediate alcohol levels and acidity, and red fruit flavors. Merlot planted in New World regions like California are harvested later and produce wines that are fuller in body, with higher alcohol and deep plum, blackberry fruit tastes and aromas.
As a blending grape, the role of Merlot in Bordeaux is to add softness to Cabernet Sauvignon. In Italy, you will see the use of Merlot to balance out the high acidity in many Italian grapes. Similar to Bordeaux, it is blended in “Super Tuscans” to soften the Sangiovese grape. In California, Merlot was mainly used on its own as a varietal wine, but for years now, it is also being blended in the Bordeaux-style as well.
Lighter Merlots pair well with salmon, shellfish, chicken, particularly grilled or roasted, and also mushroom-based dishes. The fuller Merlots make a tasty accompaniment to beef, grilled or roasted, and filet mignon, as well as pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces.
So, don’t be like Miles in Sideways – order that bottle of full-bodied California Merlot if it is to your liking. Or try a traditional Bordeaux – 2015 is a good year. Whatever you decide to do, just have a very Happy International Merlot Day!