Some people say Merlot is just a lighter version of Cabernet Sauvignon, but I disagree. Merlot can be just as much as a heavy hitter as Cab Sauv. Personally, I prefer a medium-bodied style of Merlot, which reminds me of cherries dipped in bittersweet chocolate. Lush and silky, this wine can be quite the seductress.
Merlot is perfect with Pepperoni Pizza, rabbit, duck, chicken, veal, sausage, lasagna, Pasta Bolognese, petite filet, and meatloaf. The plush fruit forward flavours of the wine are refreshing against these protein heavy foods, while the bittersweet coca, smoke, and mocha flavours complement any roasting or grilled flavours found in these dishes.
California and New Zealand are notable producers of this noble red wine. In France, it is often blended with other grapes to produce the marvellous Bordeaux wines. Chile is gaining a lot of momentum lately with their take on Merlot, and they offer a lot of value for the quality they are producing.
Many regions, particularly Australia and Canada, blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to produce something called Cabernet Merlot. Cabernet Merlot combines Cabernet Sauvignon’s masculinity with Merlot’s charming plushness. This is an excellent blend for banquet meals as it combines a lot of different flavours that people enjoy in a wine.
While expensive variations exist, Merlot is not overly costly. There are many fantastic bottles out there for between $10 and $15. Although some bottles, such as the Merlot-dominant Chateau Petrus, from the right bank of Bordeaux, may run you well over $1,000.
When to serve Merlot
Merlot is excellent for cocktail parties as long as it isn’t overly bold (depending on the region – Colder Climate Merlots, such as those from France and Italy can make for some Bold, almost Cabernet Sauvignon like Merlot). You want enough flavour to keep people entertained without distracting them too much from the party at hand. For a cocktail, party wine should be like background music in that it is pleasant, and a great conversation starter. Wines that are too bold would be the equivalent of a hard rock band playing in the background.
Merlot is also perfect for banquets and events. It tends to be medium bodied and middle of the road (all though you will get various renditions that will stray in either direction) so it appeases the majority. Merlot isn’t also very expensive so if you are entertaining a lot of people, it won’t break the bank.
Common Flavours of Merlot:
Blackberry, Plum, Cherry, Bell Pepper, Oregano, Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Pine, Black Tea, Cedar, Dill, Mocha, Cocoa, Maple, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Smoke, Tar, Leather
Notable Producers of Merlot:
Argentina: Catena Zapata
Australia: Nugan Estate Cabernet/Merlot
Canada: Chateaux des Charmes, Inniskillin, Pelee Island Cabernet/Merlot
Chile: Casa del Rio Verde, Nimbus, Ravanal Caballo Dorado
South Africa: Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush
USA: Beringer, Butterfield Station, Dog House, Hart and McGarry, Robert Mondavi
New Zealand: Oyster Bay
Merlot Goes Great With:
Duck and Merlot
Duck is a rich meat that can stand up to a powerful wine, which makes Merlot a great match, especially if was grown in a cooler climate such as France, Italy or Chile. Cool climate Merlot will have a higher presence of tannin, and an earthier flavour which will go great with duck.
If the duck has a fruit reduction sauce, a warmer climate Merlot (one from Argentina, California or Australia) may be a better choice as it is leans on the fruit forward side (and have less tannin, making for a silky wine) which will complement the fruit sauce.
Pepperoni Pizza and Merlot Pairing
For pairing Pepperoni Pizza nd Merlot, try an Italian or French Merlot, which will have more herbal (rosemary, anise) flavours that will go nice with the tomato sauce. I love how the coca, smoke and mocha flavours blend so well with the crispy pepperoni flavours, making for a long finish for this fantastic duo.
Meatloaf & Merlot
We love a California Merlot or Argentina Merlot with Meatloaf as it has a soft tannin and fruity youthfulness that goes well with any sauce that glazes the meatloaf. The herbal notes, such as Oregano, Rosemary and Sage also brings a new perspective to this pairing.
Roasted Chicken and Merlot
You’ll want a medium bodied Merlot for Chicken, as it isn’t a heavy meat. Try a Merlot from California or Argentina for this pairing.
Here you’ll find the Rosemary, Oregano and Sage notes of a medium bodied Merlot enhancing this meal, while the plush fruit flavours are refreshing against the sometimes dry texture of chicken. Lighter, and easy-drinking Merlot is also exceptional with Pulled Pork, for similar reasons.
Rabbit Paired with Merlot
Fruit forward Merlot cover up the gaminess of Rabbit, while an earthy and medium-bodied Merlot may enhance or complement the rabbit flavours. Rabbit is a lean game food, meaning it has very little fat, so you’ll want to pair this classic game dish up with a Merlot that is low in tannin, or more mature so that the tannin has softened naturally. If the rabbit is in a rich stew, or is part of a hearty sauce, you should be able to get away with a full-bodied Merlot.