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You Had Me at Merlot: One of the Most Famous Red Wines

Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine Types

At the end of last week, after finishing a wine article on Riesling, I felt a little guilty, bad that I had left red wine out of the limelight. For a while, I shook this feeling off - I mean, I can't possibly talk about all wine types at all times. But, as I soon felt a bottle of red wine powerfully tapping me on the shoulder and angrily uttering, "Ahem," I gave in and decided I would do for red what I did for white. Easy there Pahlmeyer Napa, you had me at merlot.

One of the most well known wines around, merlot has a permanent reservation in restaurants and bars all over the world. A wine that translates to mean "young blackbird," this French name was given either because of the grape's dark color or to describe the blackbirds liking of it, a liking that may have been discovered when they were heard repeatedly slurring their chirps.

As most wine lovers know, wine has been around for centuries and merlot is no exception. It is believed that merlot traces its roots back to a man in 1784 Bordeaux, France who, upon consuming it, quickly named it as one of the best. By the 1800's, the merlot grape was planted in several wine regions of France and eventually made it to Italy and Switzerland.

These days, merlot is a staple wine in several areas. Wearing the bronze medal, it is the third most planted grape in the French regions and the fifth most in Italy. It is also produced in Romania, Australia, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, and the US, particularly in California, Washington, and Long Island. Though produced in Chile, Chilean merlot's reputation went bad when it was discovered that their "merlot" was accidentally "merlot and carmenere." Since this discovery, Chilean winemakers have worked to correct their mistake.

Merlot is often evaluated against other wines, including cabernet sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Though this may play a role in wine rivalry - as one wine calls the others incredibly spoiled - it also provides means of comparison. For instance, when it comes to cabernet sauvignon, merlot grapes are usually made up of larger berries in looser bunches. They aren't quite as black and blue, have thinner skin, less tannins, and a higher sugar content. Merlot grapes also often ripen two weeks earlier, leaving bottles of merlot to brag to bottles of cabernet sauvignon about their higher level of maturity.

Merlot tastes quite similar to cabernet sauvignon - according to Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible the two are often confused with each other during blind tastings. Like cabernet, merlot maintains flavors of blackberries, cherries, plumbs, and chocolate. But, merlots also possess a rich and ample softness that many cabernets are without.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, merlot has some similar flavors, such as baked cherries, but Pinot is generally much more supple, much lighter, more sensual, and not as tannic as merlot. Pinot Noir is also a much, much bigger fan of the movie Sideways.

One of the best qualities about merlot is its ability to get along with all different types of food. It's great for a beef stew, a roast, baked lamb chops, chili, red sauced pastas, hamburgers, and even salad. It goes well with such a variety of dishes that many people simply serve merlot when they are afraid to serve something else. It's generally thought of as a safe bet.

So, there you have it: merlot in a (grape) nut shell. This should keep the red wines happy ...at least for a while. Who knows what will happen when I come out and say there is such a thing as white merlot: hopefully I won't get stabbed with a corkscrew; I'm kind of a bleeder.