Merlot 101: A Grape with a Story to Tell

Paige surrounded by Merlot bottles, drinking red wine

Each October, I rejoice as the temperatures cool and leaves begin their transition into bright auburn colors – luscious reds, fiery oranges, golden yellows. Harvest comes to a close here in wine country and the aromas of pumpkin spice and savory homecooked meals hang in the air… Ah, Merlot  Season is here.

Merlot, often overshadowed by its red wine sibling, Cabernet Sauvignon, is a grape variety that’s worthy of its own spotlight.

In this journey through the world of Merlot, we’ll uncover its origins, its unique taste, delightful food pairings, share some fun facts, and reveal why you should be drinking more of this storied varietal!

Related: Best Merlot Wines – Our Complete Shopping Guide

Merlot being poured into a red wine glass

Where do Merlot Wines Come From?

Merlot’s roots dig deep into the soils of Bordeaux, France. This grape is a key player in Bordeaux wine blends, alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. 

Bordeaux’s temperate maritime climate provides the ideal conditions for the grape to thrive. However, this grape has also traveled far and wide, adapting to various climates.

Merlot in Cooler Climates

  • In cooler climates, Merlot exhibits a more delicate and subtle profile.
  • Look for wines from regions like the Loire Valley in France or Washington State in the USA.

Merlot in Warmer Climates

  • In warmer climates, Merlot becomes riper and more full-bodied.
  • California, with its sun-drenched vineyards, is a prime example of a warm-climate area. You can find it in Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and beyond!

Merlot Taste

Merlot, often described as the “easy-drinking” red wine, boasts a wide range of styles. Here’s what you can expect when you take that first sip:

Flavor Profile

  • These wines are known for their softness and approachability.
  • You’ll discover notes of black cherry, plum, and sometimes a hint of chocolate.


  • Typically lower in tannins compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, making it smoother on the palate.


  • Usually these wines have moderate acidity, offering a nice balance between freshness and roundness.


  • Merlot is a medium to full-bodied wine, but the body can vary based on the region and winemaking techniques.
Merlot food pairings on a table with a woman drinking and a bouquet next to her

Merlot Food Pairings

Pairing Merlot with the right dish can elevate your dining experience. Here are some delectable suggestions:

Classic Pairings

  • The wine’s softness makes it a great match for roasted chicken or duck.
  • A juicy burger or a hearty pasta dish with tomato sauce complements its flavors.

Cheese Pairings

  • Opt for brie or gouda to enhance the fruitiness of the wine.
  • For a richer experience, try it with blue cheese.

Vegetarian Options

  • Vegetable lasagna or grilled portobello mushrooms with Merlot? Yes, please!

A Hint of Spice

  • Merlot can handle a bit of spice, making it a fine partner for dishes like chili or Mexican cuisine.
L'Ecole Merlot bottle

Fun Facts

Now, let’s sprinkle in some fun and fascinating facts about Merlot:

  • Merlot translates to “The Little Blackbird” in French, but no one is quite sure of the name reference. Some believe it could be a reference to the dark skin of the grape, while others believe it refers to the blackbirds that have a fondness for eating the grapes off the vine
  • Merlot often plays a crucial role as a blending grape in Bordeaux wines, adding softness and fruitiness to the mix.
  • It’s one of the most widely planted grape varieties worldwide, proving its popularity among winemakers.
  • Merlot is the second most popular red grape in America, after Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • In the movie “Sideways,” Merlot got a bad rap. However, it’s essential to know that this grape is not about the wine snobbery depicted in the film.
  • Merlot is often recommended as the first red wine someone new to red wine should drink due to its approachability. It’s known for being soft, ripe, and elegant, as well as pairing great with a variety of foods, but you can also enjoy this wine on its own.
  • It comes in a full range of styles: From light and fruity to bold and robust, Merlot can surprise your taste buds in many delightful ways.
  • October is Merlot month, a global movement celebrating drinking this delicious red wine!
Merlot grapes

When is Merlot Day?

Every great wine deserves its own day in the sun — Merlot Day falls on November 7th each year. It’s the perfect occasion to uncork a bottle of this magnificent red wine, enjoy its luscious flavors, and perhaps even revisit that classic film, “Sideways.”

Check out our full calendar of wine holidays here!


In conclusion, Merlot is one of the most popular red wines, due to its versatile and charming nature. 

Whether you’re enjoying a casual dinner or a special occasion, this wine can bring joy to the table. 

So, the next time you’re contemplating what to sip on, consider reaching for a bottle of Merlot. It’s a journey through taste and tradition that’s always worth taking. Cheers! 🍷


Is Merlot sweet?

Merlot is typically not considered a sweet wine; it’s known for its dry to semi-dry taste, featuring fruit-forward flavors but minimal residual sugar. However, the perceived sweetness can vary depending on the specific winemaker’s style and the region where the wine is produced.

Read more: Is Merlot Sweet?

Is Merlot a red wine?

Yes! Merlot is a red wine made from red grapes. 

What color is Merlot?

Merlot wines usually have a deep red to dark purple color, often described as ruby red. The exact shade can vary slightly depending on factors such as the grape’s ripeness and the winemaking process, but it generally falls within this rich red spectrum.