Hello Prince Albert! The Merlot varietal is one of the most common types of grapes that we find in the wine section but despite being used in many types of blends, the grape as a single varietal wine is not as popular with wine drinkers as the Cabernet, Malbec or Shiraz wines.
Is there a reason that Merlot tends to get shunned while the others sell regularly? The simplest explanation comes down to the nature of Merlot. The three other varietals I mentioned get picked more often than Merlot mainly due to the intensity of their flavors. All three have a decent amount of concentration and flavor and deliver a bold rush of flavors while Merlot sits on the mellower side of things.
The trend for wine drinkers in and around our city leans heavily towards wines with high intensity and Merlot is a medium to low-intensity red. The varietal is often used to fill in blends since it has a smooth character and deep ruby color but on its own, some drinkers can find it lacking.
I’m happy to say that the two featured wines this week buck the trend of low-intensity Merlot and both provide a rewarding and satisfying wine-drinking experience. While both Merlots are more easy-going than most Cabernet Sauvignon, they still manage to deliver plenty of flavor.
Merlot is also incredibly common because it is one of the easiest grapes to grow. The grape is known as an international varietal since it can grow successfully in almost any spot where it is planted. The terroir has a large influence on the style of the wine as lower-temperature grown Merlot will display red fruit and higher acidity while hot-temperature grown Merlot showcases dark fruit, lower acidity and a full body.
Take a quick look through the Canada VQA wines on the shelf and you’ll notice that many of the reds are Cabernet Merlot blends. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and often Cabernet Franc. The Merlot grape is employed heavily in these blends since it is easier to grow and less expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon. For this reason, it makes sense to use a more affordable grape like Merlot to fill in blends and create wines that are still affordable for the everyday consumer.
Merlot is also prominently featured in wines from Bordeaux where it helps soften the wines from the left bank (often a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot). Arguably the highest quality Merlot from Bordeaux comes from the right bank from an AOC called Pomerol. Prince Albert has one or two bottles of Pomerol waiting to be tasted but be warned, these wines don’t come cheap!
Another fantastic region to try some excellent Merlot in is California. While Napa tends to steal the spotlight from the rest of California, Sonoma, Carneros, Central Coast and Paso Robles are other high-quality AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to look out for. The prices will go up in wines from these regions but the experience they deliver is worthwhile, especially when you can find a great deal like the Olelo Merlot which is regularly $35 but can be found on sale right now for $23 after taxes.
Give Merlot a taste by buying a few different brands and price points from several different countries. As I said, you can find Merlot in every country and aisle in the liquor store and even though the intensity of this varietal is lower than others, it still provides for a wine that is easy to sip again and again! Here are my wine picks of the week!
Olelo Merlot 2017: (Paso Robles, California). Off-dry to medium-dry red, deep ruby color. The medium-intensity nose presents ripe blackberry, raspberry, plum and vanilla. This Cali red is medium-plus bodied on the palate with jammy, lush tannins and a rush of dark fruits. Blueberry, blackberry, plum, boysenberry and vanilla highlight the juicy mid-palate which moves into notes of pepper, plum and chocolate/vanilla on the long finish. Acidity is mellow but balanced and the fruity character of the wine stands out. Excellent intensity and concentration. Pair with grilled burgers, roasted meats or beef brisket. Drink Now. Very good! $23, 13.9% ABV
Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2018: (VQA Okanagan Valley, BC). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color. While subtle at first on the nose, the wine opens with rich blackberry, plum, red currant and sweet tobacco. To the taste, the wine is full-bodied and round with medium-plus tannins and rich dark fruit notes like blackberry, plum and forest currants. A flash of pepper comes after the mid-palate which quickly smooths out into chocolate and earth. Black licorice trails along with plum, black currants and spice on the long finish. The chocolate flavor reminds me of Oreo wafers with gentle baking spice. Pair with poutine, pizza, roast beef, boneless ribs or cheddars. Very good! $24, 14.5% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!