Whether it was Miles’ rant in the movie, Sideways, or the fact that every grocery aisle was stacked with bottles, or that my Aunt was now stocking it by the magnum, Merlot’s over-exposure caused many a savvy wine drinker to avoid the varietal altogether.
But Merlot remains popular nationwide – it’s the second leading red varietal (9.7% of the U.S. wine market) after Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine.com customers, however, while also preferring Cabernet Sauvignon, bought more Bordeaux blends, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sangiovese and Rhone blends in 2010 than they did Merlot (just 2.4% share of our business).
When Miles uttered the memorable line, “I’m not drinking any *@&#ing Merlot,” he was echoing what many wine drinkers in America had come to think of the once well-respected grape – its popularity had led to its demise. The plush, round texture of Merlot translated well to the American palate and was easily mass produced into bargain swill. Ordering Merlot by-the-glass was popular, no matter the producer or quality.
Yet this grape has more to it than what goes into those easy-drinking bottom shelf bottles. Though it is often considered best as a blending partner to soften up more tannic and structured varieties, Merlot can stand well on its own. In fact, some of the most collectible and age-worthy wines of the world are made from Merlot – you may have noted the irony in Sideways, when Miles enjoyed his most prized possession, a bottle of Cheval Blanc, a wine that is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Some of the more noteworthy growing areas for Merlot include:
Right bank of Bordeaux – St-Emilion and Pomerol make magical wines from Merlot, including the famed Chateau Petrus. Smaller appellations from the right bank, like Cotes de Castillon and Fronsac, produce great value wines based on Merlot, which are easy-drinking, yet maintain a complex character that showcases the balance of fruit and tannins.
Washington State – Merlot is the most planted variety in Washington, and the state is creating wines that are stunning in their structure and ageability. They combine the wild berry and spice of the grape with substantial tannins that lend a complex layer to the wines.
Napa Valley – Though very important in blending with Cabernet Sauvignon in the region, Napa Valley produces some incredible Merlot, many of them at excellent value prices, especially when compared to a winery’s Cabernet, where bottle inflation is prominate.
Though Merlot can still be found in bottom shelf bottles that are more wine cooler than cool wine, we encourage you to look to the quality stuff – the good Merlot – and give this variety another chance.
Ten of my favorites can be found here.
Or you can take a look at our popular 90+ Rated Merlot