Is Merlot Making a Comeback? Experts Say Yes!
Merlot, a wine that used to be the most popular, was heavily criticized and suffered a significant decline in demand due to the movie “Sideways.” The lead character in the movie famously declared, “I am not drinking any f***ing merlot!” causing a ripple effect in the wine world as it lost its place as a sought-after varietal. However, could the tides be changing? Are we witnessing the merlot resurgence that experts are raving about? This blog post investigates this phenomenon, explores the reasons behind it, and offers evidence to support this comeback.
Table of Contents
– What is Merlot?
2. The Merlot Backstory
– The Sideways Effect
– The Ripple Effect of Sideways
3. The Merlot Comeback
– Millennials and Merlot
– Variability is a Good Thing
– Merlot is Food-Friendly
– The Benefits of Blending
4. Why Merlot is Making a Comeback
– Quality is on the Rise
– Winemakers Rediscovering Merlot
– Increased Demand for Non-Cabernet Reds
– Favorable Weather Conditions
5. How to Enjoy Merlot
– Ideal Serving Temperature
– Food Pairing Suggestions
– Drinking on Its Own
– Merlot Blends
Merlot is a wine grape varietal that originated in Bordeaux, France, but is now grown worldwide. It was once the most widely planted grape in France until it was overtaken by Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1990s. Merlot is known for its soft, plush, and fruit flavors. When properly aged and made, it can possess layers of complexity, making it a premium wine that can rival Cabernet Sauvignon and other top-tier varietals.
The Merlot Backstory
The Sideways Effect
Merlot was once the most popular varietal in America, even overtaking Cabernet Sauvignon. However, this all changed when the 2004 hit movie Sideways emphasized the supposed lack of quality and sophistication of Merlot, particularly California Merlot. In the critically acclaimed film, Miles, the protagonist, is a wine snob who vehemently dislikes Merlot. He famously declares, “I am not drinking any f***ing merlot!”
The Ripple Effect of Sideways
The movie’s influence was noticeable as sales of Merlot fell by 2% within the first year of the movie release. The decline in demand was compounded by a surge in sales of Pinot Noir, the wine Miles preferred in the movie. One can say that Sideways started a wine trend of sorts. Many wine drinkers followed Miles’s lead, switching from their beloved Merlot to Pinot Noir. The film had a lasting impact that was felt until a few years ago.
The Merlot Comeback
Millennials and Merlot
Millennials are drinking Merlot in large numbers, with consumption rising more than 75% in some countries, according to research. The current trend towards favoring Merlot among millennials could be due to several factors, including the wine’s ability to complement new cuisine styles such as poke bowls, sushi, and Mediterranean dishes. Additionally, it is naturally approachable and doesn’t require aging, making it a good option for those new to the wine-drinking world.
Variability is a Good Thing
Despite what Sideways purports to show, there is a great deal of versatility to Merlot. As a varietal, Merlot can produce very different flavors depending on where it is grown, the climate it is grown in, and the winemaking techniques used. Most casual wine drinkers are only familiar with California Merlot, which is cherry-flavored and relatively simple in comparison. But, when Merlot is grown in volcanic soils, it creates wines with spice, tannins, and rich, smoky flavors.
Merlot is Food-Friendly
Merlot is an excellent wine for food pairings, especially with dishes containing tomato sauce or other acidic ingredients that can easily overpower other varietals. It’s also an excellent match for heartier meals like stews and roasts, pairing well with their rich flavors. Additionally, it pairs well with hors d’oeuvres and tapas, making it versatile enough to drink with any meal or a light snack.
The Benefits of Blending
A significant reason for the rejuvenation of Merlot can be attributed to blended wines. Blending Merlot with other varietals creates smooth and seductive wines that are easy to drink. This combination often makes Merlot a popular choice for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, adding a soft, round flavor to the often tannic Cabernet.
Why Merlot is Making a Comeback
Quality is on the Rise
Lack of quality was a significant perception issue for California Merlot wines in the early 2000s, causing a decline in their consumption. However, wine producers have made significant advances in wine-making techniques, producing merlots with greater depth, flavor, and complexity. These more refined Merlots are garnering attention and compelling consumers to try them once more.
Winemakers Rediscovering Merlot
Wineries in various parts of the world are turning their attention to the Merlot grape by providing more extensive planting and making it the primary varietal instead of blending it with others. Winemakers are discovering that Merlot has many personalities, and they are beginning to develop specifically geared flavors according to the region where it was grown, only fueling the popularity among consumers.
Increased Demand for Non-Cabernet Reds
Cabernet Sauvignon has been the king of red wines for several years. However, with the industry shifting towards varietals like Pinot Noir and other red blends, Merlot is benefiting from the uptick in demand for non-Cabernet reds. With consumers intensely seeking different wine profiles, Merlots’ return only becomes a reality.
Favorable Weather Conditions
Winemakers have also been reaping the benefits of ideal weather conditions in many regions where Merlot is grown. Moderate temperatures and ample rainfall have aided in the production of higher quality Merlot that displays the elegance and complexity the varietal is capable of producing.
How to Enjoy Merlot
Ideal Serving Temperature
The wine is at its best at a temperature just below room temperature. Between 60-65°F is the best temperature range to ensure that you get the full flavor of the wine.
Food Pairing Suggestions
Merlot is a versatile wine that pairs well with many foods, but it’s perfect with dishes like steak, lamb, turkey, and duck. It can also be served chilled, making it the perfect complement to barbecued foods in the summer.
Drinking on its Own
Merlot can be enjoyed entirely on its own, making it an excellent choice for a casual drink or even at a dinner party.
Merlot blends continue to grow in popularity and are becoming a staple on many wine lists worldwide. Merlot-Cabernet blends, Merlot-Malbec blends, and Merlot-Petit Verdot blends are becoming increasingly popular.
1. What is Merlot best paired with?
Merlot pairs well with many foods, but it is perfect with dishes like steak, lamb, turkey, and duck.
2. What temperature do you serve Merlot?
Merlot is best served at a temperature just below room temperature. Between 60-65°F is the best temperature range to ensure that you get the full flavor of the wine.
3. Is Merlot a dry or sweet wine?
Merlot is a dry wine with a subtle sweetness that varies according to the winemaker and region.
As evidenced throughout this article, Merlot, a once-maligned varietal, is making its comeback in a big way. It is even more popular than when it first surged in the 1990s. The reasons behind this resurgence stem from increased quality and more winemakers’ refining their techniques to make better Merlot wines, a shift in consumer drinking habits toward non-Cabernet Sauvignon red wines, and even favorable weather conditions.
Merlot offers a perfect balance between fruitiness and tannin, making it an excellent choice to complement a wide variety of dishes. As people continue to explore the nuances and versatility of Merlot, it is fair to say that this varietal’s best days are still ahead. So, the next time you’re in the wine aisle, give Merlot a chance, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
1. “Merlot’s Moment” by Michael Austin, Chicago Tribune
2. “The History of Merlot,” by VinePair
3. “Merlot,” by Wine Folly
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