Merlot – seduction in a glass
If Merlot were a person, it would be either Charlize Theron, or Cary Grant – oozing with suave sophistication, always perfectly composed, and with the ability to charm the birds out of the trees.
The name “Merlot” is generally believed to be derived from the French word, “merle”, meaning “blackbird.” Whether it was because the blue-black skin of the grape resembled the plumage of the bird, or because the creature was particularly fond of these fruity, juicy grapes, we shall really never know. Choose your own romantic notion on this one.
What we do know, however, is that Merlot is both widely grown and consumed, either as a single varietal, or as a blending agent. Depending on when the grapes are picked, will make a huge difference to the style of the wine – pick early and the wine maintains its acidity, is lighter in body, and ages very well, with lashings of fruit. Late harvesting produces wine with muscle, high tannins, and a Cabernet-style feel to it. If only by nature of the climate and long growing season, the South African Merlot falls somewhere in the middle, with a refined balance of bountiful fruit and sophisticated tannins.
Expect a deep ruby red colour; aromas of plums and dark berries, which carry on to the taste. Some Merlots release a fabulously rich Christmas pudding flavour, matched with a smooth velvety texture and a lingering aftertaste.
As a big red wine, Merlot undoubtedly goes well with meat. But don’t stop there, the Merlot wears many masks, and can work well with salmon, mushrooms, and peppery vegetables, such as chard and radishes. Stay with the fish theme, and a lighter Merlot will pair very nicely with prawns and scallops, wrapped in bacon or prosciutto.
Strong cheeses will stifle the fruit flavours in the Merlot, and also be aware of chilli peppers and capsicums in spicy foods, that could turn the wine quite bitter.
My advice? Drink Merlot with lamb, poultry, or friends around a log fire. Or if you’re fortunate enough, like me, share a bottle with Charlize Theron.