Best Merlot

Reviews

Overproduction in California in the 1990s paired with the popularity of the movie "Sideways" led to merlot earning an unfair, negative reputation in the United States.

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Which Merlots are best?

Although it has endured a rollercoaster of reputations, Merlot has been enjoyed for centuries and is among the most popular wines in the world. Merlot was born from the Burgundy region of France, where some of the world’s most beloved wines have been made, but it often takes a backseat to the more popular yet similar cabernet sauvignon.

Merlot is quite versatile; you’re likely to encounter some bottles you enjoy and some you prefer to skip. Merlot is typically dry in taste and high in tannins but varies in flavor profile, acidity, oakiness and subsequent food pairings. Our top pick from Hourglass winery shows off that diversity.

What to know before you buy a Merlot

Properties

Merlot is a balanced red wine and is defined by five characteristics:

Tannins: Generally, Merlot has medium to high tannin level. It’s typically less astringent than cabernet sauvignon, offering a smoother, rounder taste. Higher tannins result in a bitterness that may be an acquired taste to some.

Acidity: Merlot is an easy-drinking red as its acidity tends to be in the medium range. Its acidity won’t overpower meals like some other wines, but it also isn’t too weak to hold up to zesty fare.

Dryness: Merlot is almost exclusively exceptionally dry, lacking any sweetness.

Alcohol content: Like most reds, Merlot tends to have a slightly above-average alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 13.5% to 15%.

Body: As a result of these properties, Merlot is medium- to full-bodied in taste, with some smoother and milder, and others big and bold.

Tasting notes

Merlot is led by black and red fruit flavors, from plum and blackberry to cherry and raspberry. It also may be floral or herbal in aroma, including tobacco scents. If Merlot is aged for some time — over a period of five to 10 years — it may develop notes of clove or vanilla as well, which are derived from the oak barrel.

Regions

Merlot is made all around the globe, from old regions like France and Italy to new world regions such as California, Australia and Chile. If you’re unsure where to start with Merlot, go with a region that you may already enjoy or be familiar with from other wines.

What to look for in a quality Merlot

Climate

The climate in which Merlot is made influences its flavor. Those made in cooler climates (like around the Mediterranean Sea and in Chile) boast earthier notes including mushroom, licorice or mineral. These are enjoyed by those who like cabernet sauvignon.

Hotter climates like Argentina, Australia and California are likely rich and fruity and may have oaky notes from aging. These are easy to drink and may feature vanilla, chocolate and mint.

Blends

As it’s similar to cabernet sauvignon, Merlot is often blended with the more popular red. The percentage blend as well as the region influences its flavor and taste. Merlot may also be blended with petit verdot and Malbec, or a combination of three or more wines. As a result, the taste may be unique and rare.

Food pairings

Lighter Merlots — particularly those from the old world regions — are best enjoyed with lean meats, zesty salads and most anything featuring tomatoes. Those Merlots that are bolder with higher tannins can be enjoyed alongside heavier fare such as pastas and red meat.

How much you can expect to spend on a Merlot

A typical bottle of quality Merlot costs between $25-$50. Higher price doesn’t always mean better taste, as you may find some decent bottles for less.

Merlot FAQ

How should you serve Merlot?

A. Most Merlot should be decanted, or aerated, for 15 to 30 minutes. You can serve Merlot at room temperature or choose to cool it down five to 10 degrees. Enjoy Merlot in a stemmed or stemless glass that’s suitable for red wine; a bolder Merlot should be served in a wide-rimmed glass.

How long does Merlot last?

A. Once bottled, Merlot can be aged for up to 20 years, developing complex, smoky flavors. However, it can be enjoyed after a year or two of aging as well. When the bottle is opened, it should be consumed within a few days. However, if you don’t like the taste, it will eventually turn into vinegar, which can be used in cooking.

What’s the best Merlot to buy?

Top Merlot

Hourglass HG III Red Blend Napa Valley

Hourglass HG III Red Blend Napa Valley

What you need to know: This unique Merlot blend features blue and red fruit flavors.

What you’ll love: This is a ruby Merlot with blueberry and clove aroma, and black currant and plum flavor. The smooth, round taste makes for easy drinking.

What you should consider: It is pricey. Chill before serving.

Where to buy: Sold by Drizly

Top Merlot for the money

Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot

Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot

What you need to know: Smooth and bold, this Merlot is just as easy on the palate as it is the wallet.

What you’ll love: It is a trusted big California Merlot featuring notes of vanilla and oak with prominent black fruit flavors. It is an ideal pairing with larger dinners.

What you should consider: It lacks anything unique for more refined palates.

Where to buy: Sold by Drizly

Worth checking out

Josh Cellars Merlot

Josh Cellars Merlot

What you need to know: This is a medium-bodied California Merlot blend with unique flavors from a trusted vineyard.

What you’ll love: Featuring flavorful, refreshing notes of raspberry, blueberry, vanilla and chocolate, it has aromas of cassis and currant. It is a decent price.

What you should consider: Chill and decant before serving.

Where to buy: Sold by Drizly

 

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Anthony Marcusa writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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