Merlot is one of the world’s most popular red wine grapes. Good (and often great) Merlot is made throughout the world, from France and Spain to the USA, Chile and beyond. At its best it makes fleshy, rounded and supple wines with generous mouth-filling flavours of berries, plum and currants. The grape was famously bashed by the lead character in the popular movie Sideways, though it remains a crucial grape when it comes to many of the world’s finest wines. Bordeaux’s most expensive wines, Petrus and Château Le Pin, to mention just two examples, are made from 100% pure Merlot.
Not everybody can afford to spend thousands of euros on a bottle of wine, so thankfully there is great Merlot to be had at incredibly reasonable prices. This is all the better, because Merlot wines are fantastic food wines.
Pairing food with Merlot wines
Merlot wines are usually medium- to full-bodied, smooth and round in the mouth. Great bottles have strong dark fruit flavours and a fleshiness on the palate that just cry out to be paired with food. The depth of the wine means that the best pairings are usually more substantial and weighty dishes, and that lighter foods may be overpowered.
- Roast meats of just about any description are fantastic. A classic Sunday roast beef, with gravy and roast potatoes will pair very well with a right bank Bordeaux. Decant a big Saint Emilion from a blockbuster vintage, such as Château Belair 2000. Beware that this one also has some Cabernet Franc in the blend, as many Saint Emilion wines do. The style is distinctive but a little more tannic and austere than you might expect from a 100% Merlot. Counteract this with a nice gravy or other sauce and enjoy.
- A juicy steak, simply prepared. Rare or medium rare, whatever way you like it. Pair that bad boy with a big, bold and fruit-forward Merlot. To really wow your guests, try a Spanish Merlot from a lesser known region: Abadal 5 Merlot 2011, from the Pla De Bages region, has all the boldness and complexity to accentuate the simple goodness of the beef.
- Plum-based sauce dishes will harmonise beautifully with the plum flavours of the wine. Take a crispy Chinese duck breast in plum sauce, alongside an aromatic Merlot like Santa Digna Merlot 2013 from Miguel Torres in Chile’s Central Valley. This one is a great expression of new world Merlot, with plum flavours and a surprising sweetness on the palate that will really pair well with the plum sauce and duck.
- Vegetarians can enjoy Merlot, too. The secret is to avoid raw and lighter veggies, and instead opt for roasted and glazed. Oven roasted peppers and courgettes, or honey-glazed roasted carrots – you’ve got a lot of options here. Barbequed assorted veggies that have been marinated or glazed, even better! You basically want something that has the requisite flavour and moist texture to stand up to the wine. Pick your favourite, or experiment with several as an appetiser, and serve with a mature, oak-aged Merlot like Enate Merlot 2010.