Sideways, which came out in 2004, did a number on the popularity of Merlot. As you probably remember, the star of the movie, Miles, loved Pinot Noir and hated Merlot. Miles was anal retentive, and so is Pinot Noir. So the two were a perfect match. Merlot, on the other hand, is easy to grow, easy to pair with food, and easy for people to enjoy. It’s definitely not a good wine for anal-retentive types like Miles. So the big question today is whether Merlot is hot or not.
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The Popularity of Merlot
Merlot is the most planted grape in France, the second most planted grape in the US, and the fifth most planted grape in the world. This grape clearly has a following around the world.
Finding the Good Stuff
Because it’s such an easy grape to grow, there’s a lot of cheap commercial Merlot available, contributing to its bad reputation. But there’s a ton of good Merlot available too. It’s all about finding the good stuff. Many people say that, because of the clay and limestone soil, and the early ripening, the best Merlot is grown in the French appellations of Pomerol and St. Emilion.
Known for being soft, ripe and elegant, most Merlots are easy drinking reds that go well both with food and on their own. The wine is known for its supple, velvety tannins and round black cherry and plum flavors.
Two Distinctive Styles
This grape tastes quite different, depending on the climate where it is grown. It can be a lot of fun to do a tasting where you compare cool-climate and warm-climate Merlots. Here is what to look for.
|Cool Climate||Warm Climate|
|Tannins and Acidity||Higher tannins and acidity||Lower tannins and acidity|
|Flavors||Earthy, tobacco, tar, subtle fresh red fruit||Fruit forward, juicy, dark fruit flavors such as blackberries, cherries and plums, leather and cocoa notes|
|Interesting Note||Can be mistaken for a Cabernet||Less likely to be mistaken for a Cabernet|
|Examples||St. Emilion, Pomerol||Napa Valley, Paso Robles|
Merlot is a flexible wine when it comes to pairing. Most people say that it works best with meat dishes. As a vegetarian, I find a lot of vegetarian dishes that work too, especially meaty-styled stews.
Merlot can be tough to pair with fish, leafy green vegetables and spicy dishes.
I would love to hear your experiences tasting cool-climate vs. warm-climate Merlots. I’d also love to hear what your favorite Merlots are.
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