Know Your Grapes: Merlot Characteristics, Pairings and More

Know Your Grapes: Merlot Characteristics, Pairings and More

Wine has been around for centuries, and it's a vast and complex world that can be intimidating for those who are new to it. There are so many grape varietals, regions, and styles to consider, and it can be hard to know where to start. However, one grape that is easy to get your head around is Merlot. It's smooth, soft, and accessible, making it a great introduction to the world of wine. In this blog post, we'll introduce you to the Merlot grape, its characteristics, and how it compares to other popular varietals like Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc. We'll also discuss how to drink Merlot, what food it pairs well with, and the characteristics of South African Merlot and why it is different from the Merlot from the Old World.


Merlot is a red grape varietal that originated in Bordeaux, France and is the second most planted grape variety in France. It is one of the South African red wine varieties that the industry is shifting its focus towards. It has gained an impressive reputation thanks to its unique taste and versatility; It's a medium-bodied grape that is known for its soft, velvety texture and ripe fruit flavors. By itself, it can have flavors of cherries, plums, and dark chocolate.


Merlot, when consumed as a single varietal, is known for its simplicity and easy drinkability. When it comes to the comparison between Merlot and other popular grape varieties, there are a few things to keep in mind. Pinot Noir, for example, is lighter in color and body than Merlot and has a higher acidity level. Shiraz, on the other hand, has a spicier taste profile. And lastly, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot's closest relative, has a bolder structure and more tannin. Even though these wines are unique in their own way, Merlot still stands strong with its smooth texture and fruity flavours.


Merlot can be consumed as a single varietal or as part of a red blend. When blended with other grapes, it can add depth and complexity to the wine. In fact, Merlot is often used as a blending grape, particularly in Bordeaux blends, where it's blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. These blends tend to be bolder and more complex, with a higher tannin content. In a blend, Merlot can add softness and fruitiness to the wine, balancing out the tannins and acidity. You'll also find Merlot blended with other grapes, like Shiraz, creating a wine that's full-bodied and rich.


There are so many ways to drink Merlot, but it's best served at room temperature, around 15-18 degrees celcius. You can enjoy it on its own or pair it with a wide range of foods, making it a versatile wine to have on hand. It pairs well with grilled meats, like steak or lamb, as well as hearty pasta dishes. It's also an excellent wine to drink with cheese, especially soft, creamy cheeses like brie or camembert. When drinking Merlot, you'll want to take note of its soft, smooth texture and ripe fruit flavours.


South African Merlot is different from Merlot produced in the Old World, like France and Italy. South African Merlot is known for being fruitier and more approachable than its Old World counterparts. This is because South African winemakers tend to pick their grapes when they are riper, resulting in wines that are softer and fruitier in flavor. Old World Merlot, on the other hand, can tend to be more structured and tannic, making it a good candidate for aging. 


Merlot is a great introduction to the world of wine for those who are just starting out. Whether you're enjoying a glass of Merlot on its own or with a meal, you can't go wrong with this delicious grape varietal.

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