This year to break tradition, we are having Beef for Christmas Lunch for the first time so I have been doing a lot of research about which red wine would be best to serve. Red Wine is totally outside of my area of expertise so it’s been a learning curve for sure.
Whenever I think of red wine, I think of winter, spices, roaring log fires – the perfect Christmas Lunch accompaniment, right?
OK so I am panicking about picking the perfect red wine for the big day!
Who hasn’t heard of Merlot? It can seem a bit humdrum, and a bit of a safe option, but as we‘ve just had International Merlot Day we’ve decided to take a fresh look at Merlot to see why it is so enduringly popular.
The joy of red wine made from the Merlot grape variety is that it can taste quite different depending on whereabouts in the world its grown, and whether its blended or used as a single varietal.
Why not do a little wine tasting, all in the name of research of course, and compare a few Merlot wines from around the world, from both cool and warm climates? Cool climate tends to imply ‘old world’ wines or those from the northern hemisphere. Warm Climate tends to imply a wine comes from the ‘new world’ or the Southern hemisphere.
Quality Online Wine retailer Rude Wines prides itself on its selection of Merlots from both cool and warm climate vineyards. All of their wines are personally sourced by their knowledgeable wine buyer who has over 40 years’ experience in the wine trade, so he knows a thing or two about hunting out the best wines for his customers. So, what do you need to know about Merlot?
Merlot is the second most planted grape variety in the world
657,300 acres or 266,000 hectares of Merlot are planted around the world. This is testament to it’s sheer popularity as a red wine grape and perhaps winemakers love it because it’s relatively easy to grow, ripen and make into easy-drinking wines. Known as an ‘International variety’, Merlot really hails from France where it produces some very moreish wines. Try Domaine Lauriga Merlot 2016 from the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France, where Merlot is a relative newcomer to the ancient vineyard soils. On offer at £8.99, this is great example of a very approachable single variety Merlot and has juicy flavours of plums and damsons.
2. Merlot is generally a soft and fruity wine so it’s a great party wine
If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing wine for a party or celebration, you can’t go far wrong with a warm -climate Merlot. Merlots tend to be medium-bodied (i.e. not too heavy), have juicy fruit and soft tannins which makes them great quaffing wines. Try Klippenkop Merlot 2017, Robertson £6.99. It’s a classic, rich Merlot, full of ripe plum and Morello cherry notes brought together by a lush, velvety texture. You might taste the oak influence, but it’s held nicely in check, with a hint of sweet spice on the finish. Perfect for your Christmas party.
3. Merlot is one of the main ingredients in Bordeaux wines
Merlot has been grown in the Bordeaux region of France for centuries as a grape used in the classic blend for Bordeaux (or Claret) wines. It is usually blended with other varieties namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Merlot brings a plummy character, fleshiness and softness to the wines. The other varieties bring perfume and structure to these blended wines meaning they have great ageing potential in the bottle. But if you prefer easier drinking, softer wines head to Saint-Emilion as some of the very best Merlot-dominant red wines are produced here. Try Chateau de Brens Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2012. With 20% off and just £16.95 a bottle you should love its blackberry, liquorice, and vanilla notes that come from 18 months oak ageing prior to bottling.
4. Single varietal Merlot wines or ones made mainly of Merlot tend to be made to be drunk young.
The Merlot grape tends to produce wines with high alcohol and low acidity so it doesn’t tend to last too long or improve for many years in the bottle. Drinking well now, Chateau L’Enclos Pomerol, 2014 (£34.50) is a blend of 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Only 2000 cases of this wine are made and it tends to be snapped up by Merlot-loving claret lovers around the world. With production overseen by renowned ‘flying winemaker’ Michel Rolland you’ll be getting something pretty special from this small Bordeaux region. You’ve just found that special bottle to go with the Christmas turkey this year.
5. Merlot’s tell-tale flavour is plums
If you’re ever doing a blind tasting and are asked to guess what wine you’re drinking, if the wine has an overriding flavour of plums you can bet it’s made from Merlot grapes. A great example of a particularly plummy Merlot, El Circo Merlot (£6.99) hails from the Carinena region of Spain. We don’t know whether it’s the cool, high-altitude vineyards or the age of the vines that enhance the fruity flavours of this Merlot, but we do know it’s dangerously easy-drinking.