Contrary to popular belief, merlot did not suffer long, according to a recent Nielsen study commissioned by Blackstone Winery.
If merlot could talk, like Mark Twain it would say, “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
Some interesting findings from the study, as reported in Wine and Spirits Daily:
• “Merlot has the single largest consumer base of any varietal wine in the U.S., and of the major wine varietals, is the one most closely associated with high quality at an affordable price.”
• Twice as many households buy merlot as buy pinot noir.
• Merlot is the third most popular varietal in America, behind chardonnay and cabernet.
• “It has a higher household penetration than any other varietal, with 9.5 percent of U.S. households purchasing at least one bottle of merlot in 2008 compared to 9.3 for chardonnay and 8.8 for cabernet.”
Unfortunately, some American producers have capitalized on merlot’s popularity and released overly sweet and diluted wines — especially those selling for under $5 per bottle. But up the ante to $20, the “new normal” top price most consumers are willing to pay for a bottle of wine, and merlots are remarkably different.
Generally, bottles in the $12 to $20 range taste more like merlot should taste. And how is that?
Well, it should taste like cabernet. No kidding! Both grape varietals have remarkably similar taste profiles. Experts sometimes have difficulty distinguishing the varietals if tasting them blindly.
I am always amused and somewhat taken aback by those who say they drink only cabernet, eschewing merlot as if admitting to drinking it would mark them social pariahs and cause their children to have to marry beneath themselves. In truth, most cabernets have some merlot in their blends, and vice versa.
Here is the skinny on merlot: Its aromas and flavors include dark, jammy fruits like blackberries, blueberries and currants. Its taste profile can include coffee and chocolate, and its aroma can sometimes include leather and barnyard. All these characteristics can be attributed to cabernet as well.
So why do consumers continue to turn to merlot? I believe that, for the average red wine consumer, the easily pronounceable merlot offers an approachable, easy-to-consume, pleasant wine at a good price.
Check these tasty merlots found in our local wine outlets:
Bogle Vineyards 2007 Merlot. $9.79 at Midtown Chevron at 13th and Wilmer in downtown Anniston. Bogle merlot was one of the first wines recommended when this column debuted nine years ago. From the sixth generation of the Bogle wine family, whose merlots are consistently good, complex, jammy, with nicely integrated tannins. Though critically acclaimed and in demand, the price remains moderate.
Blackstone 2007 Merlot. $10.85 at Midtown. From the people who paid for the merlot study, Blackstone is another consistently good producer of moderately priced wines. The blend contains 16 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet. Ripe, dark berry fruit aromas and flavors with a hint of spice in the taste profile.
McManis Family Vineyards 2008 Merlot. $10.99 at the Wine Cellar on Quintard in Anniston. Yet another moderately priced, consistently good, family produced wine. Nice mouth feel. Pleasant approach with jammy flavors that prevail through finish.
Peirano Estate Vineyard “Six Clones” 2007 Merlot. $12.75 at Tyson Art and Frame in Golden Springs. From six different clones, sub-varieties, of merlot, all grown on the Peirano estate by fourth-generation Peirano farmers and winemakers. Like more expensive merlots, this wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. Dark, concentrated berry aromas with supple tannins.