It hangs on the wall, just covering up the old thermostat that is no longer in use. It says, “You had me at Merlot.” It’s a play on the famous line from “Jerry McGuire” where Rene Zellweger admits that she’s loved him from the first moment they met. Ah, love! Whether or not you feel that way about Merlot, for many it’s the tag line that sticks. The first love, the first encounter, the first sip, Merlot made it easy to love. No rough edges, round smooth texture and mouth filling richness. If you didn’t know what to sip, Merlot was a good choice.
In the new world, it might be considered a gateway wine, while in the old world, it is a fantastic partner to Cabernet Sauvignon and has found itself in a very codependent relationship where Cab is king and Merlot plays second fiddle. That is until you look a little deeper. In Bordeaux, while on the left bank Merlot plays second to Cabernet Sauvignon on the right bank Merlot is dominant and also the key variety in some of the most expensive bottles for acclaimed chateaux in the world.
Did Merlot get a bad rap? Apparently everyone was tired of Merlot when Sideways, the sleeper wine movie sensation, hit the big screen and Miles crows “No more f**king Merlot!”. Was it for good reason? Probably. Merlot was being churned out in a style that was simple, quaffable and boring. Merlot is a variety that grows well broadly and isn’t fussy like Pinot Noir but can express itself beautifully when cared for (like most of us). It suits moderate to warm climates where it ripens early and produces fairly high yields. As a result, in the central valley of California, where an industrial approach to wine production exists, Merlot was easy to take advantage of because of it's abundant and generous nature. It became California’s go to wine in the 80’s and 90’s. That is until Sideways. Then it took a tumble off the popularity pedestal and went into an exile of sorts.
Fast forward to today and you’ll find Merlot in a bit of a resurgence with winemakers, especially boutique wineries, bringing finesse, elegance and expression of place back to Merlot and leaving the more generic nondescript styles behind. It still has the title of second only to Cabernet Sauvignon, and is still Queen in St. Émilion – on Bordeaux’s famous on the right bank. In the new world, Merlot is finding its place and expression in the moderate climates of Washington and British Columbia showcasing elegance and personality. It’s also working optimally in regions of Italy, Eastern Europe, South Africa and Napa Valley.
To learn more about Merlot, join our Thursday session February 11 on Zoom. Discover the unique characteristics of the vines, leaves, grape bunches of the classic grape varieties and the tasting notes that differentiate Bordeaux to Italy, California to South Africa and beyond. Discover some great value for your pocket book and your cellar.
Here is a list of wine available in the BC Market and more broadly. Reference to bottle name and price is indicated. Where not indicated it’s BC Liquor Stores and you can shop on the website.
We are using style as a guide rather than country. Hope you are inspired to try one of each so you too can taste the difference.
Fresh & Fruity Merlot (light - medium bodied)
IT - Villa Teresa Organic Merlot $16.99
WA – Charles Smith The Velvet Devil $16.99
BC – Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2018 $21.99
IT – Tommasi Le Prunee Merlot 2017 $23.39 | Marquis
BC - Fairview Cellars Merlot 2017 $29.47 | Marquis
Rich & Opulent Merlot (full bodied)
BC – Quails Gate Merlot 2018 $29.99
BC - Poplar Grove 2017 Merlot $31.99 | Marquis
BC – Laughing Stock Portfolio 2017 $52.99
CA - Freemark Abbey 2014 Napa Valley Merlot $60.78 | Marquis
CA - Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot 2016 $71.99
BC - Checkmate Opening Gambit 2014 $84.99
Classic & Refined Merlot Blends (medium – full bodied)
FR - Jean-Pierre Moueix Bordeaux 2015 $19.99
FR - Saint Antoine 2016 Entre Deux Mers $25.13 | Marquis
FR - Chateau Rousselle Cotes de Bourg 2017 $34.99 | Liberty Wine Merchants
IT - Valdarno Di Sopra - Il Borrigiano Il Borro 2018 $37.99
IT - Arceno Il Fauno Di Arcanum Toscana 2015 $42.99
FR - Chateau La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2017 $55.00
Classic dishes to go with Merlot dominant wines.
Medium-bodied merlots with medium tannins and acidity tend to suit lighter and leaner meats, like chicken, duck, or veal. Richer merlots with higher tannins and acidity paired with richer foods, like heavy meat and pasta dishes. With fall and winter on its way Merlot pairs well with heartier salads, harvest vegetables, and roasted fare.
1. Veal Chop from Tenderland Meats marinated overnight in olive oil, rosemary and whole peppercorns then grilled on the BBQ served with olive oil brushed rilled zucchini, onions and red peppers topped with coarse salt.
2. Seared Beef Salad is delicious and many options are online. I like the South Beach Flank Steak and cilantro salad but this looks like fun if you are sipping South Africa http://www.melkkos-merlot.co.za/seared-beef-salad/