Merlots Make Quality Comeback

‘e’ Wine of the Week

By Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

Next week we’ll begin our eighth year of E Wine mini lessons. The ever-evolving world of wine has something for every interest. Whether you enjoy geography, geology, history, botany, zoology, math, psychology or just about any other field (did I forget farming?), there’s something for everyone. And it tastes good, too. This week we’ll revisit a topic from last year, something at once familiar and ever changing.

Try a new wine this week!


Aqua Pumpkin

Merlot is one of the top three best-selling grape varieties in the country, rivaled only by cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. And, some of the world’s greatest wines are made from this grape. Well known examples include Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, which sells for hundreds of dollars per bottle, and Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards.

Years ago, merlot’s new-gained popularity caused sales to soar, which caused shortages. This brought many people into the merlot business, and a lot of bad merlot was in the market for years. This culminated in merlot being foully dissed in the pinot noir movie “Sideways.”

Today merlot has come full cycle as a more discerning wine market has caused much of the bad merlot to fall by the wayside while a new generation of rich, full, well-made merlot has taken its place.

Merlot was long considered a blending grape in its native home of Bordeaux, France, but there, cabernet sauvignon is a blending grape, too. On the “Left Bank” (home of Chateaux Lafite-Rothschild and Margaux), the firmer, cabernet-based wines are softened with a little merlot. On the cooler “Right Bank” (St. Emilion), the suppler merlot wine is given extra “backbone” with varying percentages of cabernet sauvignon and its earlier ripening cousin, cabernet franc. Today this practice of blending is routine in California as well. Many current Napa Valley releases are described as “Right Bank Blends.”

Being naturally less tannic, merlot is smoother than cabernet, so many people making the transition from white wine to red prefer it. It pairs well with pretty much the same foods as cabernet — steaks, etc. If you’re serving two wines with one course, it can work well to pour a merlot in front of a cabernet sauvignon.

The best merlot tends to come from cooler areas. That’s one reason that you don’t see as many from Australia and Argentina. Good values can be found from Chile, and there are many options from California and Washington. Merlot has been grown in northern Italy for centuries, having been brought there by the French.

California’s Central Coast has a wide variety of microclimates, making it a good place for just about any wine grape. Aqua Pumpkin is made by Ken Volk, who sold much of this wine under the Wild Horse label before he sold that winery. It retails in the $15-$20 price range.

Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.

Categories: Legacy Archive