Merlot Red Wine - The Complete Wine Guide

    Merlot Red Wine

    Merlot wine is one of the most popular types of red wine in the world.

    In this article, we'll explore everything there is to know about merlot wine, its taste, food pairings that go well with the wine, how merlot compares to other wines and fun facts about this red wine.

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    Merlot Wine - The Ultimate Guide

    Merlot Wine Bottles

    The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the colour of the grape.

    Merlot is famous for being a chameleon like fruit, as it adjusts to different climates and changes according to the location and the winemaking technique used.

    What Is Merlot Red Wine?

    Generally, Merlot is a dry, medium- to full-bodied wine with moderate acidity, moderate to high alcohol, and soft but present tannins.

    Merlot is famous for having a variety of flavours, ranging from graphite, herbs and blackberries to black cherries, plums and cocoa.

    Merlot is usually layered with an aroma of clove, vanilla and cedar when aged in oak.

    Merlot Wine Taste

    Warm & Cold Climate Vinyards

    Here's how merlot tastes differ, depending on the climate it's grown in:

    Warm Climate Merlot

    If you taste Merlot in a warm climate, it tends to have a tropical taste with refines, pin-cushion tannins.

    Due to the strength of these particular wines, it is usually layered with an aroma of chocolate, cocoa, vanilla or smoke cedar and they tend to be aged in oak.

    Related article: Chocolate Wines

    A few examples of the Merlot grown in warm regions like Napa Valley, Argentine or Australia.

    Some of warm climate merlot characteristics include:

    • Ruby-like bluish colour
    • They can be dry, but rich in tropical fruity taste
    • Blackberry, blueberry and raspberry are my personal favorites
    • Medium to large in size
    • Floral aroma
    • As a result of aging in oaks, expect it to be rich with baking spices
    • Chocolate, coffee and mocha

    Cool Climate Merlot

    Cool Climate Merlot: Chile & Northern Italy

    Opposite to the warm climate Merlot, you will find the cool climate Merlot more structed with earthly flavours. When tasting this type of Merlot blind, it is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for a premium taste.

    Example of cool climate Merlot growing places located in the Right Bank Bordeaux: Saint-Émilion or Pomerol, as well as parts of Northern Italy and Chile.

    Some of cool climate Merlot characteristicsinclude:

    • Ruby like reddish colour
    • Tastes like ripe fruit like cherries or raspberries
    • Purple floral aroma
    • Licorice and anise
    • Mushroom, truffle, forest floor
    • Dark chocolate and coffee flavour
    • Usually medium sized

    Read Our Full Guide: What Does Merlot Taste Like?

    Merlot Wine Regions

    Merlot Wine Regions

    Here are the most popular regions for growing Merlot wine:


    Bordeaux, hub of the famed wine-growing region, is a port city on the Garonne River in southwestern France.

    Merlot there is generally made into common mixes.

    It is also grown in the southern part of France, where it is usually mixed with Malbec grapes.


    In Italy, Merlot is usually mixed with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is one of the world's most widely recognized red wine grape varieties (alongside Sangiovese) in a combination famously named the “Super Tuscan.”


    Chile one of the best places for growing Merlot.

    The wines from there range from simple wines to the more complicated ones coming from Colchagua, Maipo and Maule Valley.

    California & Washington

    Merlot is famous in the US for being grown alongside the famous Cabernet Sauvignon.

    They are grown in the North Coast Region. You’ll find many of the larger production wineries located on the Central Coast.

    An interesting thing happening in Columbia valley is the Merlot grape performing exceptionally well.

    At night time, the temperatures drop massively so they maintain acidity.

    Try Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla and Yakima Valley for top notch Merlot.


    China, which is one of the newer wine region, relatively speaking, Merlot is becoming hugely famous there.

    Merlot is not yet achieving as much popularity as the Cabernet in the famous wine Ao Yun, but with time it might start to give it a run for its money.

    Merlot Food Pairings

    Selection of Foods Paired with Merlot Wine

    Merlot is one of the best wines to experiment with, as it matches well with a variety of different food groups.

    Keep it simple, easy meals often work very well with easy wines. 

    For a more dominant blend like Bordeaux, that has distinct earthy tones and ripeness, I’d recommend:

    • Beef ribs
    • Roast chicken/turkey
    • Ratatouille

    If you’re adventurous and you want new world styles, go for rack of lamb, veal, or a filet mignon with red wine sauce.

      Best Way to Serve Merlot 

      Merlot Wine Serving Diagram

      Merlot should be served slightly chilled, at around 15°C - 18°C or .

      You can reach this by leaving the bottle for a good 15 minutes in the refrigerator to cool.

      If you don’t finish the Merlot bottle after drinking from it, simply replace the cork and place it back in the refrigerator once again.

      The taste will stay the same for about 2–4 days.

      Related Guide: Red Wine Storage Temperature Guide

      Merlot Stored In Wine Fridges

      After that, the wine will begin oxidizing, which is not good. If it reaches that point, you can either use it in cooking or get rid of it.

      Need a wine fridge? Shop them online here.

      As with all red wines, Merlot has an ideal temperature range which it should be served in.

      The idea of serving red wine at room temperature is not uses anymore due to the fact that different people have different room temperatures depending on where they live.

      If Merlot is served too warm, the alcohol will taste hot while the flavours are jumbled, which results in a bad tasting experience.

      Also, if Merlot is served too cold then the aromas and the flavours are dampened.

      How Much Alcohol is in Merlot?

      The percentage of alcohol in a Merlot depends on factors like where it is grown as well as the climate.

      The climate where the Merlot is grown greatly influences ripeness, which directly influences alcohol percentages.

      So, different regions have Merlot with different alcohol percentages.

      Merlot from cooler regions like France usually have around 12–14% alcohol but it can reach as high as 14.5% when it is grown in a warmer climate like California, Australia and Chile.

      Is Merlot Sweet or Dry?

      Is Merlot Sweet?

      No, it's not.

      Merlot is often made dry.

      You have to take care that the impression you have when tasting ripe fruit flavours like plums or cherries for example is not the same as tasting sweetness due to sugar content.

      What does dry wine mean?

      A dry wine basically means that after the grapes have been pressed, the sugar from the grapes is then converted into alcohol by yeast.

      When all the sugar is converted, a fully dry wine is then created. Sometimes though, a little sugar called residual sugar (RS) is left behind.

      This might be useful, to add a hint of flavour and sweetness to the wine. It can also be because the yeast didn’t finish the fermentation process.

      Calories and Carbs in a Bottle of Merlot

      Since Merlot is made dry, the wine contains almost sugar free, however that doesn’t mean that the wine doesn’t have calories.

      Alcohol contains calories:

      • Typically, a 5oz serving of Merlot contains 125 calories
      • A 750ml bottle will contain around 650 calories

      However, if a Merlot has a touch of residual sugar (RS), which happens due to the reason we mentioned above.

      The wine will have some carbs or carbohydrates present, but only in a trivial amount.

      Dry wines usually have between zero to four grams of carbohydrates, which is not a lot really.

      Merlot Wine Vs Other Wines

      Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon

      This is a hard question.

      Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are difficult to tell apart.

      The reason for that it that they come from the same family of grapes, descending from the Cabernet Franc.

      As a result, in blind tastings, people find it especially hard to differentiate between them.

      Wines originating from the Cabernet Franc family contain pyzrazines as well as aromatic organic chemical compounds that help produce bell pepper and herbal notes, which are more distinct in cold regions.

      Moreover, when Merlot develops in cold regions it develops firmer tannins, more structure and tangy character than in warmer regions.

      This makes it often get confused for Cabernet Sauvignon.

      These 2 are often mixed together.

      The Cabernet is used for its cassis, herbal undertones, and tannin structure and Merlot for its nimble texture and ripened fruit.

      Merlot is typically cheaper, fruitier than the Cabernet, and people generally see it as a less complicated choice.

      Read our full guide on Merlot vs Cab Sav here

      Merlot Vs Pinot Noir

      Merlot Vs Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir is a lighter choice that is used in making modest colour whine and alcohol, with high acidity, elegance, and is used in making perfumes of red fruits like cherries and raspberries cranberries.

      Pinot Noir has always been famous among wine enthusiasts for the nostalgic feel made in Burgundy, which was later accepted by mainstream Americans, especially after the movie Sideways.

      Merlot has more tannin than the Pinot Noir as well as more body, alcohol, and a darker colour than the Pinot.

      Merlot Vs Shiraz

      Shiraz vs Merlot, Shiraz has a reputation for having lots of rich and powerful flavours.

      Think lots of spice and peppercorn with smooth notes of chocolate and juicy brambles.

      Merlot is a little lighter in comparison, although still has lots of red fruit flavours such as plum jam, rich fruit cake and cherry garcia.

      What Does Merlot Wine Look Like?

      Merlot Bottle of Wine on Table

      Merlot has a distinct reddish colour as a result it being produced with red-skinned grapes.

      When freshly made, wines can appear to be semi-opaque to opaque or deep ruby red.  To have a clearer picture of the Merlot’s appearance.

      The colour Merlot is generally lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and darker than the Pinot Noir.

      A way to spot a Merlot in a glass is seeing glint of brick/orange tones on the rim.

      Merlot colour changes with age or through loss of pigmentation as well as turning garnet. Merlot can also be used to make both white and rosé  wines but that is not so common.

      Fun Facts About Merlot

      • Merlot is the child grape of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. This makes Merlot a sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most popular wines
      • Merlot is the most grown grape in Bordeaux, France, and grows in the same climates as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot
      • Merlot is often confused in a blind-tasting with a Cabernet. A secret to spotting it is its blue fruit flavours, softer tannin than Cabernet, and sometimes a hint of chocolate
      • The word “Merlot” translates into “little blackbird”, and is due to dark blue/black colouring of the grapes. It may also be those annoying little blackbirds that eat the grapes
      • The first mention of Merlot was in 1783. They wrote it as Merlau and stated, “makes a black and excellent wine, productive in good soil.”
      • Saving the best until last...Merlot cuttings (that’s what they thought) were brought from Bordeaux to be planted in Chile. The funny thing is, in 1994, a grape researcher by the name of Jean Michel Boursiquot, discovered that they were not Merlot at all. They were Carménère. Oops.


      Is Merlot Good Wine?

      Merlot is definitely one of the better red wines out there.

      As with other varieties of wines, you’ll find lesser quality examples lining supermarket shelves, but Merlot has the potential to produce fine pours, with great aromatic concentration and an eccentric soft texture that you will enjoy.

      The regions where you’ll most likely find great examples of Merlot are Bordeaux’s Right Bank, Tuscany and Umbria.

      But don’t underestimate what some producers are doing further afield – Slovenia, Alto Adige, Oregon, New Zealand and Chile are also regions where Merlot has performed surprisingly well!

      Merlot Wines Reputation

      In the early 1990's, Merlot suffered terribly from a poor public image.

      This happened because the Merlot in California were mostly lush, soft, flabby, and borderline sweet (not in a good way!). Then, when the movie, Sideways, came out in 2004 with its famous line “I am not drinking Merlot “.

      After that Merlot sales dropped almost 2% (while Pinot Noir sales increased 16% in the Western United States.)

      Before You Go...

      Merlot Vinyard

      We hope you enjoyed our article on merlot wine.

      Do you need to know about other popular wine types to add something extra to your next dinner party?

      Read our next article about popular red wines (and why) here...

      Popular Red Wine Types (Full Guide)

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      philip thompson Author: Philip Thompson
      Philip is the General Manager at Expert Wine Storage, and is very knowledgable about all things relating to wine and wine storage, including wine fridges. He is regularly featured in media outlets sharing his knowledge on wine. Connect on Linkedin

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