Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are many years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot, like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape berries, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich red color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate-to-lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the rankings-by-heft.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes—Merlot is one of the few red vinifera wines that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc, Roussillon, and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Note: When it comes to food pairings, by all means—drink what you like!

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

At Long Last…Wine on a Rope

10513848_sJust about everyone in the wine industry has been joking about “adult juice boxes” for years, and now…it seems like this time they really truly are here. Not only that, this wine tastes good and hangs around my neck.  Who can resist?

It seems a company called House Band Wines is making California Wines to the tag line of “hard workin’ wines to rock your taste buds!”  Cute! They make wine in “regular bottles” in several styles, includling California Chardonnay, California Merlot, and California Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also make a blend called “Red+5,” a blend of Merlot and Syrah, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot. Their white blend, “White+3” is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Muscat Canelli.

They all looked like fun wines…but I was distracted, delighted, and just a bit afraid of the wine in the 375-liter pouch.  With wine in a 375-ml eco-pouch, designed and ready to hang around my neck, hands-free, from my rock-n-roll lanyard (or, lets be real, my key fob), would I ever have a productive day again?

chard-merlot-finalAlas, my entire professional career I’ve been able to resist the siren song of a fully-stocked wine fridge humming along next to my desk…but this might be different.  

I tried a California Merlot, a good choice, I reasoned, as it would last all day as I scurried from meeting to meeting, grocery store and conference call. It did indeed dangle well on the end of my landyard (key fob), and the wine tasted pretty darn good.  Fresh, ripe dark fruit, a hint of vanilla, just enough zing.  If you get the chance, try some! 

You can learn more about House Band Wines here…and you’ll most likely see them at your next festival/garden party/barbeque. All places that need good wine (on a rope!)