Merlot 101: Crash Course

Merlot: the notorious wine that many people have learned to hate due to bad publicity such as the movie Sideways. Despite the bad press lately, Merlot is an excellent wine for those who love a more subtle red wine.

The largest production of Merlot is in France, followed by Italy, the U.S., Australia and Chile. The grape itself is somewhat blue/purple in color and has soft, fleshy characteristics. It has a thinner skin and therefore has less tannins than you would find in a Cabernet.


The grape itself can be grown in a variety of climates, however thrives in cooler soil types, such as found in Bordeaux. If attempting to grown the grape in a warmer climate, pruning techniques are vital in keeping these grapes out of direct sunlight, as the thin skin will let the grapes burn much more quickly than other grape varietals. It also ripens up to two weeks earlier than other red grapes.


Merlot’s primary taste characteristics are red fruits such as raspberry and plums, tobacco, licorice, vanilla, and cloves. As mentioned, it has a tendency to have easy tannins and a smooth finish. The wine is well known to pair well with a variety of foods due to it being your middle of the road red wine: Bolder than a Pinot Noir, but smoother than a Syrah. It is extremely good with any tomato based pasta, chicken and mushrooms.

Due to its versatility, Merlot is also widely used as a blending varietal. You can find small percentages of Merlot in many Cabernet Sauvignon’s, as well as your easy to find red blends.

DNA studies of the varietal have led to the discovery that Merlot has close family ties to Cabernet Franc (father plant) and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes (mother plant).

Don’t shy away from this wine! Every wine drinker should be able to find a version that they like, whether it’s a smoother, red fruit style of Merlot, or a bolder Merlot with slightly more tannins.

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