After the film Sideways was released in 2004, rumours were rife that Merlot was dead, sales of merlot plummeted and no one wanted to admit to liking Merlot anymore. This was never supported by facts, indeed only two years later, ACNielsen reported that “the next most popular wine (in California, after Chardonnay) is Merlot”. And in 2010 they reported “More (American) households purchase Merlot than any other wine variety, white or red.”
Should we be surprised?
This thin-skinned, early ripening varietal is the most widely-planted red grape in France. It is regularly blended to balance and soften more austere varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, and shares many of the same aromas and flavours but with softer tannins for an easy-drinking, food-friendly wine.
If you’ve been avoiding Merlot because of all the bad press in the mid-2000s, here’s five examples from Opimian that are definitely worth a second sip.
6309 Bulletin Place Merlot 2010, Southeastern Australia 13.5% ABV
This garnet-coloured wine has a lovely nose, with scents of red fruit and an appealing smell of mocha that will have you debating whether it is coffee or chocolate. There’s plenty of robust flavour on the palate as you sip, you’ll recognise sour cherries first with a leafy/forest floor backdrop following. With light acidity, Bulletin Place is quaffable and easy drinking, perfect for pairing with full-flavoured salamis and duck dishes, particularly if they include cherries or cranberries. M9/D9
6397 Stellekaya Merlot 2008, South Africa 14% ABV
A deeper garnet colour, this Merlot is just starting to show brick tones at the rim. The nose is all ripe Victoria plum and mint, with hints of cinnamon and the characteristic South African smoky chariness. In the mouth, the wine is dark and rich, medium-to-full bodied with high acidity and soft, silky tannins. Stellekaya Merlot has a delicious earthy herbaceousness, coupled with dark chocolate/coffee flavours. If you're drinking this wine with your meal, you’ll be looking for full-flavoured dishes such as steak and kidney pie, stuffed green peppers or a farmer’s sausage ring (called Boerewors in South Africa). M7/D7
Click here to read three more Merlot reviews