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updated: Apr 27, 2014, 7:09 PM
By Eric Garnier
It's been several vintages now since Merlot got the bum rap in the movie "Sideways". Such a silly movie that crashed Merlot and started the craze for Pinot Noir.
So, why did Merlot get beat up so much? Merlot is the second most planted grape varietal in the world. There was just too much juice. Wine makers seemed to just devote their efforts on cabs and not put too much effort into making a great Merlot. So, a lot. lot of the wines were thin and boring.
Merlot is a dark blue varietal that has been made by itself and has been used as a blending grape for generations. It is softer and fresher and slightly more herbaceous than its cousin Cabernet. Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux and is the most planted grape in that region. Two styles exist, the first being late harvesting to gain ripeness, with velvety tannins and earlier harvested for a medium bodied wine with fresh fruit flavors.
In France, Merlot is the most planted grape varietal. Besides Bordeaux, it is also grown in the Loire and in the south. It's main role is as a blending grape to add body and softness. One of the most famous and rare wines of the world Chateau Petrus is almost 100% Merlot. This wine typically sells for about $1500 at release and is one of the most sought after wines at auction.
In California, winemakers have become more serious about their Merlots. I find myself trying as many new Merlots as possible. I almost call it a baby brother to the heavier more tannic Cabernet. I find the tasting profile similar to cabs but with more fruit notes that include blackberries, boysenberries and plums.
The Merlots coming from Washington and northern Italy are also very good and seem to be a little softer and fruitier than their California counter part. Merlot from those regions tend to have a little higher acidity because of the cooler climates.
The diversity of Merlot allows it to be paired with a wide variety of food dishes. Merlots will go well with any type of food that you would traditionally serve a cab with. Lighter foods such as salmon or mushroom based dishes will work well also.
So, next time you are out there looking for a good wine step passed those Cabs and pick up a Merlot. I'm sure you will be happy you did.
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