But for a grape with its own holiday, Merlot has had a serious identity crisis over the years.
It was totally famous in the 1990s thanks to a 60 Minutes French Paradox report that said French people have a lower incident of coronary heart diseases. Since Merlot is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux region of France, Merlot sales spiked.
Then came the 2004 movie Sideways. In it, the main character, Miles Raymond says “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any BLEEPing Merlot!”
And then Merlot sales fell like a rock.
Well thank goodness it’s back.
Merlot, which translates to some version of “the little blackbird,” is consider one of the world’s noble grapes. Its father is Cabernet Franc (much like Cabernet Sauvignon) and its mother is an obscure, basically extinct, grape called the Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.
Merlot is such an easy-drinking wine because it falls in that sweet spot between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. It’s not as “big” as a Cab and potentially not as fruity as a Pinot. So its super versatile.
So get to know Merlot — again.
1. Merlot is the second most widely-planted black wine grape in the world.
It’s basically grown in every wine-producing country — from Argentina and Australia to South Africa and Spain. And of course, the United States and France.
And while many wine drinkers presume that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux region of France, it’s not — its Merlot.
2. Some of the world’s most expensive and revered wines are Merlot based.
And those bottles can cost you hundreds — even thousands — of dollars.
So Merlot is getting its comeuppance.
3. Merlot is "vineyard insurance."
Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon so its risk of being affected by bad weather is lessened. So if Cabernet had a tough growing season, more Merlot is added to the blend. It’s like the “safety grape” in that way.
4. It’s Your Snuggle-up-by-the-Fire Wine.
Merlot is a comfort wine. It has less tannins — and therefore less bitterness — than a Cabernet. But it has more body than a Pinot Noir. It’s plummy and soft and often has flavors of chocolate and cherry.
And because of that softness — it often tastes great at a younger age.
5. Merlot works with just about every food.
Pizza, pasta, meat. Go for it. Your cheeseburger? Definitely.
Just maybe pick something else for your light summer salad, salsa or spicy Thai food.
And here’s a little wine trivia for those of you who have watched Sideways: Miles’ most prized wine that he drinks at the end of that movie? 1961 Cheval Blanc — a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Merlot blend!
And if you’re as big a fan of the movie as we are, know that the sequel is out!
The book, Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, written by the same author, Rex Pickett, is available now. And we are all hoping the movie follows!
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.
Image Credit: Vine Vera Cosmetics