Well before Miles, the character in “Sideways”, angrily declared “I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!” many of us were just fine ordering glasses of the stuff. You well know that many of those Trixies and their Chads (ahem, some of us?) couldn’t get enough of this wine while wistfully looking at each other over heaping portions of cheese and pine nuts stuffed manicotti at Rose Angelis. But soon after the release of the film, Merlot sales took a dive as the American public began to take wine advice from fictional movie characters. But in spite of the bad press, Merlot saw a rebirth to climb to its rightful status to even make it as Wine Spectator’s 2014 Wine of the Year.
Merlot, the most planted grape in Bordeaux, has traditionally been one of its most important blending grapes. In a climate where ripening can sometimes be challenging, this early ripener has been a good “hedge” against Cabernet Sauvignon’s late ripening idiosyncrasies. Its name is thought to come from the French “merle”; a little local black bird…perhaps for the similarity in color to the berries it produces (and the birds like to eat!).
Unquestionably, Merlot has been a grape that when overripe, could turn flabby and even taste like a room temperature glass of Ovaltine. In California, with its near perfect weather, sunny days abound and grapes can often ripen to taste like alcoholic jammy fruit bazookas. But the American palate for this type of wine did change and with it the winemakers’ mission for now producing more restrained and better rounded Merlot based wines that show better vibrancy through higher acidity. Remember, the same happened to Chardonnay wines even in the absence of any declarations against drinking “Any fucking Chardonnay”.
Merlot expresses itself well in those climates where cooler nights and some elevation contribute to a less fruit forward style. Try some of the Merlot from Washington State for fantastic values. Many French ones are also very affordable and simply delicious. But if value is not your thing, try to get your hands on one of the most acclaimed wines of the world: Chateau Petrus from Bordeaux. This is 100% Merlot at about $2,500 per bottle. Just sayin’.
What to eat with Merlot? If your thing is the big and bold style, try it with the same dishes you would eat with Cab Sav such as charred meats. The light body styles will interestingly hold up to roasted chicken and even some salmon.
So come back to Merlot and enjoy its middle of the way fruit, tannins, and acid…just like Miles does at the end when he drinks his prized Cheval Blanc; ironically a Merlot based wine!
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.