This feature is going out to my good friend, Jodi, who is a great lady and loyal follower of the site. Being a big fan of Merlot wine, she asked me to write something up on it. Here is my attempt to satisfy her taste buds:
Softer than Cabernet Sauvignon with low to medium tannins and acids, Merlot is a popular stand alone red wine varietal as well as an important blending grape in Bordeaux, France. Tannins and acids (acids more so in white wine) are commonplace among red wines because they are naturally occurring substances contained in the skins of grapes, which are used in the making of red wine along with the juice of the grape (white wine is made with only the juice). Tannins cause people to pucker their lips when they drink red wine. Characterized by a deep purple color, the Merlot grape is generally medium to full-bodied, which means that the wine feels a little heavy on the tongue and palate, but doesn't necessarily mean stronger or drier. The body of a wine refers to this heaviness, not it's dryness or strength. Although Merlot can be high in alcohol content, it is not usually 'dry'. Dryness refers more to white wines because of its acid content - red wines refers more to its tannin content (amount of puckering on the lips). The lightest to heaviest wines would range from this order: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet, Zinfandel. The aromas and flavors can often be plummy or chocolatey with a hint of red fruit.
It's versatility makes it a good match for every kind of red wine drinker because it can range from fruity to strong or from low tannins to medium tannins depending on what part of the world it is made. France and Italy, in particular, being Old World wines generally make a stronger Merlot compared to the New World wines of the U.S. or Chile. Many winemakers feel that Merlot is not satisfactory in its own right, and thus they often blend it with Cabernet. Merlot is actually one of the most planted grape varieties in Bordeaux, but not so much anymore in the states. Although, it is also an important grape in Washington, California, New York, Northeastern Italy, and Chile. One of my favorite Merlots is from California called 'Macmurray Ranch', which can be found in any local wine and spirits shop and is served by the glass in many higher end restaurants around the Harrisburg area. Merlot is generally a good match for foods, such as poultry, lamb, roast beef, and strong cheeses and can go along nicely with some chocolate desserts. I often use a California Merlot for my red wine sangrias because of its fruitiness, which matches well with red fruits, such as berries. I also prefer to have my red wines served slightly below room temperature. Drinking it too warm makes it taste overpowering so I just pop in the fridge for ten minutes before serving. It's always a good idea to let it breathe a little by either de-canting it (pouring it into a large pitcher or decanter), especially if its an older vintage, or exposing it to air for 10 minutes, which in either case, allows the flavors and aromas of the wine to develop and come out.
I hope I did the Merlot grape justice here...Thanks, Jodi