For me, choosing a red wine that will satisfy my mood at any given time is both easy and difficult. Having an in-depth knowledge of wines, through experience, certainly helps you to make an informed decision but equally, it can hinder because how do you distil that huge choice of wines down to just one?
Unless I’m after something very specific, I have my ‘all-rounders’ or ‘go-to’ reds that never fail to please, regardless of whether I want to enjoy it with or without food.
It’s no coincidence that these are predominantly Merlots or Merlot-dominant wines.
Why are Merlots such good all-rounders?
As France’s no. 1 grape variety and the second most planted in the world after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot can be found in everyday drinking wines all the way up to the most expensive Bordeaux’s, especially from the tiny appellation of Pomerol. The key is in their versatility and relative ease to cultivate.
The types of descriptors you’ll most often see linked to Merlot wines are soft, supple, fleshy, plush, richly scented, smooth, well-balanced and medium to full weight. Because of their intense fruitiness, average alcohol and generally lighter tannins, they’re just as enjoyable being sipped in front of the fire as accompanying a wide variety of cuisines, hence why they’re great all-rounders.
For outstanding value, choose Chilean Merlot
Chile has enjoyed an enviable reputation for well over 30 years in delivering great value for money when it comes to wines that are accessible to all. The Los Espinos Reserva Merlot from Espinos y Cardos typifies this, with its soft, super-juicy, up-front fruit and subtle, ripe-fruit tannins that complement the lingering plum and damson flavours.
There’s no oak used here and this latest vintage actually sees the addition of 10% Carménère which adds a liquorice hint to the wine’s aroma and taste. Enjoy on its own, with a decent sourdough pizza with rocket salad or a roasted aubergine and tomato bake.
For a richer experience, choose Australian Merlot
Merlot may be considerably less widespread than Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon but it’s still the third most planted red grape variety on the Australian continent. From Western Australia right across to New South Wales, you’ll find Merlot produced in all the main wine-producing states.
In South Australia, especially around Langhorne Creek, you can find excellent examples like Wild & Wilder’s Exhibitionist Merlot. Showy, vibrant and choc-full of rich berry fruit bound by smooth tannins, there’s so much potential for this grape variety if Shiraz and Cabernet were ever to fall out of favour.
There is oak here, although it’s hardly discernible, and a 14% component of Cabernet Sauvignon adds deeper colour and a little more grip than the Los Espinos. This is perfect with a Moroccan lamb tagine or Massaman beef curry.
For classic food pairings, choose a classic Bordeaux
It’s thought that Merlot originated from the Bordeaux region around 2,000 years ago but it wasn’t formally identified until the late 18th century. It’s the mainstay of many of the generic Bordeaux wines under the AC Bordeaux and higher quality AC Bordeaux Supérieur appellations as well as those of the prestigious St-Émilion and Pomerol too.
Properties like Château Gardera, Bordeaux Supérieur are excellent in terms of their quality/value ratio and that’s partly down to its location, just to the south of St-Émilion overlooking the River Dordogne, and partly down to the quality of the winemaking.
Crafted from a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, the grapes are grown sustainably and are classified as such with Haute Valeur accreditation. 12 months of maturation in French oak completes the wine adding a layer of subtle toast and spice notes to the generous, supple berry fruits, gentle acidity and plush tannins. Sunday roasts and hearty casseroles make the best pairings for this fabulous wine.
As we approach International Merlot Day (7th November), what better excuse does one need to crack open a bottle or two and re-discover Merlot’s charms!