How I learned to stop worrying and love Merlot

By Claire Poskitt
How I learned to stop worrying and love Merlot

“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot!”


The audience gasps. Restaurant owners furiously scribble ‘Merlot’ off their drinks menus. Thousands of wine drinkers question the integrity of their taste buds.

This famous line, fired like a bullet in the Oscar-winning film ‘Sideways’ (2004), was all it took to send Merlot’s reputation down the drain. Within a year, the wine that was once loved by many had been tainted indefinitely, and sales began to drop 1.4 per cent year-on-year. Meanwhile, Pinot Noir sales rocketed, as a result of an endorsement from the film’s protagonist.

But what was the reasoning behind these harsh words? What happened to Merlot?

Over-loved and over-saturated

You might say Merlot is an example of a wine that was loved too much. With its soaring popularity in 90s America, wineries across the country began to jump on the bandwagon and try their hand at producing bottle after bottle.

Now, it’s common knowledge that any wine made with a good grape has the potential to be a good wine, but any wine made with a bad grape will always be destined to fail. This was the fate of many bottles of Merlot. As producers made and sold cheap and nasty commercial swill, the wine started to lose its credibility.

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However, this shouldn’t put you off the red wine forever. If you make the right choices and support decent, well-produced bottles, you’ll find there’s plenty of choice out there. Merlot has now crept back into the top three top three most popular wines in the world and is the number one choice for red wine within the UK.

So, what’s there to worry about? Nothing. In fact, in the rest of this blog post, we’ll be giving you reasons to love Merlot again.

Merlot: The rundown

The first mention of Merlot dates back to the late 18th century. It’s widely acknowledged that the wine originates from Bordeaux and was the finest wine of its time. Nowadays, however, Merlot is produced in almost every corner of the world, with the biggest growing regions being:

  • France
  • Italy
  • United States
  • Australia
  • Chile

The process of making the wine varies depending on the individual winemakers and the climate conditions of their wineries. However, many tend to age the wine for at least 8-12 months, or even 24 months, within oak barrels.

Our personal favourite, the Aurelia Viscinescu Anima Merlot, can be drunk from purchase or, to help the flavours develop more, be aged for a further three to five years.

Merlot’s versatility

Merlot is a versatile wine, with its medium tannin and acidity allowing it to be enjoyed both on its own and with plenty of different accompaniments.

Typical tasting notes for a bottle of Merlot are:

  • Plum
  • Black cherry
  • Raspberry
  • Tobacco
  • Graphite
  • Cedar
  • Clove
  • Vanilla
  • Cocoa
  • Mocha

But, with that said, the characteristics of each bottle depend on where the grapes were grown and the climate they were grown in. Depending on the environment, Merlot can assume different personalities.

Cool climates

Wineries in cool climates – such as France, Italy, and Chile – tend to produce a Merlot that is much stronger and full-bodied.

These wines typically have a higher tannin count and a drier, earthier, flavour profile.

Warm climates

Wine producers from warmer climates (California, Argentina, Australia) produce wine with fewer tannins. This type of merlot has more of a fruity palette. As a result, many wine producers choose to age their produce for longer (up to 24 months) to give it more structure.

Our outstanding example

To give you a taste of how a good bottle of Merlot holds up, have a read of Mirela’s review of Aurelia Visinescu Anima Merlot:

‘Medium ruby with garnet rims, on the nose pronounced aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, plum jam, smoke, vanilla, wood, cocoa and smoked ham with a hint of resin. Complex, well-defined with intense with primary, secondary and tertiary aromas present. On the palate dry, medium acidity, full body, medium ripe tannin, elegant, velvety. 14.6% ABV. Extra flavours on the palate: tobacco, blackberry, with a very long cocoa finish.

This is a very rich wine, full of vibrant flavour. Layers of aromas develop in the glass. This is like a sophisticated and elegant man in its 40s, full of charm, savouring a cigarillo.’

A go-to accompaniment

As such a flexible, all-rounder bottle of red, Merlot is an easy wine to find favourable food pairings for. It can accompany almost any meat and a wide range of cheeses.

With that in mind, however, different types of Merlot complement different types of food. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • Lighter varieties work well with: grilled chicken, grilled Mediterranean vegetables, cheese-based dishes like pizza, tomato-based pasta, and charcuterie.
  • Fleshier Merlots can be paired with: Italian sausage or chorizo, mild to medium cheeses and cheese dishes, chicken or pork casseroles, spaghetti and meatballs, salmon, and burgers.
  • Classic Merlots can accompany steak, roast dinners (beef, lamb, chicken, turkey), beef wellington, and pork chops.

With such a wide variety of food pairings, you can be sure Merlot is a fine choice for any dinner, date, or get-together.

Quit worrying, start drinking

Although Merlot’s colourful history is interesting, any critiques within a film shouldn’t be taken at face value. Much like the movies, your opinion of wine is entirely subjective and should be based on your experiences. At the end of the day, you either like it, or you don’t.

While this wine might not have been your go-to choice in the past, with the right bottle – made with the right passion and skill – we know you’ll f***ing love Merlot.

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