9 Things to Know About Merlot

Do you like red wine? Merlot should definitely be on your list of wines to try. 

This fruit-forward medium-bodied red is a great entry point for wine newbies because it’s smooth, drinkable, and pairs well with a variety of foods. 

If you’ve ever seen the movie Sideways, you may have some preconceived notions about this underrated varietal, and we want to clear that up. While Merlot is often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, the reality is that Merlot tastes great and is typically more affordable than similar red wines.

Whether you simply want to know more about this popular varietal, or you’d like to impress your friends with some #WineKnowledge, here are the top 9 things to know about Merlot.

1. Merlot is the 2nd Most Planted Grape in the World

With more than 600,000 acres worldwide, Merlot is the world’s 2nd most planted wine grape, after Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux region of France, and among the top five grapes grown in Italy, where it’s known as a Super Tuscan. 

While Merlot is clearly a very popular grape on vineyards, it hasn’t always had the best reputation among wine experts. However, that has changed in recent years.

2. Merlot is Less Expensive than other Red Wines

Why is that? Decades ago, large quantities of cheap commercial Merlot gave this grape a bad name. Some people also credit Sideways for spreading rumors about it. 

Recently, however, Merlot has made a comeback and is now made with care and quality in mind. Still, because Merlot is considered an underdog, you can get it for a steal compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel.

3. Merlot has Luscious Dark Fruit Notes

Although the taste and character of this varietal changes quite a bit depending on where it’s made, Merlot is generally known for being a fruit-forward red wine, with lucious notes of black cherry, raspberry, and plum. 

Since it’s usually aged in oak, you’ll also detect hints of vanilla, cedar, and milk chocolate. Medium-bodied with smooth tannins, Merlot has more fruit where Cabernet has more spice.

4. Warm-Climate Merlot is Very Different From Cool-Climate Merlot

Merlot is heavily influenced by the soil and customs of the place where it’s made, and climate is a huge factor in determining what a particular bottle of Merlot will taste like. 

Cool-climate Merlot – made in France, Italy, and Chile – has more structured tannins, earthy notes, and hints of spice. In these regions, it’s easy to confuse Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In warm-climate regions like California, Argentina, and Australia, Merlot is juicy with silky-soft tannins and sumptuous notes of mocha and vanilla.

5. Merlot has a Distinctive Color

Merlot is usually ruby red and semi-opaque in the glass. It’s darker than Pinot Noir and lighter than Cabernet. 

The thing that sets Merlot apart, however, is a subtle orange hue at the rim. It might also look a little like brick. This fun fact may come in handy if you’re ever doing a blind taste test.

6. Merlot means Little Blackbird

Want to impress your friends at a dinner party? The name Merlot comes from a French word and translates to “little blackbird.” The name likely comes from the color of Merlot grapes, which are black and small. 

7. Merlot Shares a Parent with Cabernet Sauvignon 

Like many popular grapes, the Merlot grape is the result of a crossing between two other grapes: Cabernet Franc and an old variety known as Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. 

Cabernet Franc – which is still grown today and is blended with Merlot in Bordeaux – is also the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s why these two varieties share so many similarities. 

8. Merlot is Found in Blends and as a Single-Varietal Wine

Classically, Merlot is a key ingredient in the famous red Bordeaux blend, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. French winemakers are very particular about their blends, and the exact ratio of these varieties changes from region to region, and even within the region of Bordeaux

In the mid-19th century, when Merlot arrived in California, it was made into a single-varietal wine – meaning 100% Merlot grapes. On its own, Merlot became popular among wine lovers for its soft tannins and fruity notes.


9. Merlot Pairs Well with Food

Thanks to its smooth tannins and medium acidity, Merlot pairs well with a wide variety of foods, including everything from chicken to beef to pizza. It tastes great along roasted veggies, earthy portobello mushrooms. Plus, it’s one of the rare wines that pairs well with tomato sauce

In Vino Finito

Need help figuring out which region’s Merlot you should try first? Email us and we can help! 

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Bright Cellars

Our staff is full of passionate wine lovers. With our amazing sommeliers at the helm, we’ve been schooled on all things wine. We came together to write this article, in hopes of spreading a little wine-ducation with you.


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