Loved by many but perhaps underestimated by most, Merlot is often considered a lesser blending companion to other varieties, especially its Bordeaux half-sibling Cabernet Sauvignon. (DNA profiling has shown Merlot is most likely the progeny of Magdeleine Noire des Charentes and Cabernet Franc, the latter also a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon).
Merlot increased its popularity, and acreage, during the 1980s becoming ubiquitous in supermarket shelves the world over. Backlash followed, with the variety suffering for a long time, and perhaps still, from a poor reputation, mostly associated with flabby, overripe, sickly soft wines. This perception was only amplified by the ‘Sideways phenomenon’, as a result of the derogatory portrait of the variety in the 2004 film. Such reputation is highly undeserved, as Merlot can produce elegant and subtly structured wines with great ageing potential if handled correctly and not harvested too late.
Merlot has travelled well beyond its spiritual home, Right bank Bordeaux, with lovely expressions hailing from all over the world, especially Tuscany, California and Chile,which have become sources of single-varietal wines of great character and elegance – but also of some of the mass-produced examples that damaged Merlot’s reputation. Merlot can deliver wines that balance softness with ripe yet vibrant fruit, underscored by a delicious mocha or chocolate-like touch.
Merlot’s softness, fruit-forwardness and measured acidity lend themselves to easy-drinking styles, perfect for uncomplicated everyday pours that will pair well with a midweek dinner, be it a spaghetti carbonara, a Caesar salad or a club sandwich.
Retailers are also experimenting with alternative formats, such as bag-in-box, particularly suited for best-value everyday wines and which are budget, environmentally and sharing-friendly.
The list below highlights how Merlot can truly live up to its status as a leading ‘international variety’, capable of producing wines that are approachable without being boring. Some might become your go-to everyday wines, others are a good option for a special bottle to keep in the cellar for a celebratory occasion.