Who doesn’t love a day dedicated to wine? And I don’t mean just the ones that end in ‘y’ this time. November 7th is International Merlot Day and if I am being honest, Merlot is not one of my top choices for a red wine. In the interest of celebrating this grape’s holiday, though, I decided to do some digging. It turns out a lot of my misconceptions on how Merlot tastes don’t actually come from tasting it at all. My misconceptions come from the notion that it’s an ultra-popular grape and is generally less full bodied and tastes a lot like berries. Where I get these ideas from is beyond me.
So, here I am to tell you that I was wrong, in all my non fact-based wisdom. All it takes is a little chat with a salesperson and the internet to get better educated. And that is exactly what I did. I tried two Merlot’s for this blog, and I definitely learned a lot!
FIRST THINGS FIRST: THE GRAPE ITSELF
Merlot is native to France, in particular the Bordeaux region, where it’s often blended alongside Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot has a low tannin level and I think a really nice softness to it. Because of the low tannins it is not a heavy bodied wine, not one you can ‘chew’ as they say. Merlot is lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon and while there are notes of berry, they are usually very subtle.
A SATURDAY NIGHT WINNER
My first recommendation is from France, the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Merlot ($14.99). My husband and I were both surprised. I was surprised that it didn’t taste like cough syrup (honestly, where did I get that from?!). And my husband was surprised that he liked it too! He is your classic Cab Sauv with a steak guy, he likes a deep, rich and peppery red. We both found this wine to be pleasing right off the bat, smooth and light in a good way. You can taste cherry and a very small hint of spice but nothing overpowering. It was a really great wine to sip on and fold laundry with on a frigid Saturday night. I know, big nights over here!
AND NOW FOR A CALI MERLOT
My second recommendation is from California. I had read when Bordeaux became globally popular, California began growing and bottling Merlot on its own, which France wasn’t doing much of at the time. France was blending it almost exclusively, and I wanted to see if I could actually taste a difference. I picked up Noble Tree Merlot ($24.99), as it was recommended by a friend. Noble Tree is in Sonoma County and the Merlot is a small lot grape for them. This Merlot was so different to me than the French one. It was a lot darker, more like a deep plum colour and it actually had a lot more complexity to it. There were darker fruit flavours, like blackberry, and I could taste more spice in the mouth. I almost felt like if I didn’t tell my husband what we were drinking he would never have guessed Merlot.
All in all, I can’t say I am going to kick Merlot off my wine rack should it makes its way there, unless I am emptying it in to my glass! My mind has been changed on this ancient grape. Happy International Merlot Day to one and all!