A great food-friendly wine, merlot’s sweet fruitiness is a perfect foil for earthy game birds and juicy braised beef
Soft and jammy fruit with a leafy edge to it, merlot is a relaxed, food-friendly kind of grape. The secret is to make the most of the sweetness that lies within its curranty flavour and the grassy elements that surround it. It’s the sweetness that makes it so good with savoury dishes, while the grassiness helps it cope with herbs such as oregano or marjoram. With game, merlot makes a great alternative to pinot noir, the rich, velvety, plummy fruit helping to accentuate the more earthy qualities of dishes of pheasant and grouse, though it is equally at home with the richer reared poultry such as guinea fowl or even goose. In the case of the latter the grape’s acidity helps cut through the fattiness of the bird, while its sweetness complements the richness. Surprisingly for a variety that is not overladen with tannins, it is also good with beef, though preferably with a joint that’s been braised long and slow, or a steak as rare as you dare.
- Identity crisis
- Merlot has in the past been known under several guises, including vitraille, crabutet, bigney, semillon rouge and merlot noir.
- Mistaken identity
- Much of what Californians used to think was merlot in the Seventies and early Eighties turned out to be cabernet franc – oops!
- Flavour profile
- Soft redcurrant, black cherry and fresh mulberry with hints of coffee and the odd touch of cigar box thrown in for good measure. Often imbued with a lovely chocolatey edge, either milk, dark or occasionally bitter.
- Did you know?
- Spain’s great Vega Sicilia winery first took delivery of merlot plantings as early as 1864 (and did you really want to know?).
- Where to find it
- Mainly Bordeaux, but thanks to a fillip of interest from New World winemakers, it’s now more or less universal. California, Western Australia and such eastern bloc countries as Bulgaria and Hungary all give it a good showing.