Labor day is time for Merlot! Merlot is a relatively thin-skinned varietal and ripens earlier than its frequent blending partner, Cabernet Sauvignon. Softer and lighter in tannins then Cab the medium acidity helps to make the wine much more approachable early on than many other red wines. The blue Black grapes produce an attractive deeply colored wine. This grape supposedly derives its name from the word Merle, French for blackbird, reflecting the dark color of the loose bunches of large grapes. Flavors and aromas found in Merlot include plums, cherries chocolate, tobacco and bell peppers. Many of the Merlots are aged in oak which gives the wine a vanilla and clove flavor with the aromas of Nutmeg.
Merlot is one of the varietals used in creating the Bordeaux blend. The wine is generally a medium body weight. This why it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. This makes the wine more substantial and brings out the oak flavors and aromas to a greater degree. The wine has only to be 75% Merlot to be called a Merlot so many wine makers, especially California and Washington, include Cabernet and Pete Syrah and still just refer to it as “Merlot”. The European vs. North and South America differ greatly.
The great Bordeaux blend of France includes Merlot along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and these are considered some of the finest wines in the world! (A few of the famous Bordeaux estates use some Carmeniere as well.) These wines pair well with prime rib , flank steak and filet mignon and sauces such as Hollandaise and Bearnaise.
Pairing Merlots is easy if know the style of the wine. The lighter Merlots with less tannins match well with grilled chicken and roasted game. It goes great with duck. The more medium bodied Merlots go well with Hamburgers and Pizza and Tex-Mex favorites. The big French Bordeaux with big beef, Lamb and game. Merlots are making a big come back. They were much maligned as Cabernet light and a grandma wine. Then the hit movie “Sideways” had some disparaging remarks and asked for anything but Merlot by its leading character Miles. The memories of the movie are fading and wonderful characteristics of this terrific wine are becoming more and more popular once again. So this Labor Day have some Merlot. You will be glad you did.
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes for the Milford Board of Education, Gateway Community College, and is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at Realestatepro1000@gmail.com.