When you think of the Bordeaux region of France, you probably also think about super-popular Bordeaux wine. But did you know that Merlot is the most commonly planted grape there?
That’s a deliberate choice—because Merlot grapes produce some delicious wines. Research from YouGov actually found that, of the Americans who reach for red wine over other types (a whopping 69%!), Merlot wines top their preferences (at 19%). Plus, these wines come in a huge range of brands, making them perfect for a lot of different price ranges.
If you’ve ever had a Merlot, you know that it’s dark purple in color, almost black, with a medium body. Depending on the bottle, it tends to taste dry and fruity, with velvety tannins and hints of black cherry, raspberry, or plum. In terms of cooking, Merlot food pairing is fantastic to have on hand. It’s a very robust wine, meaning it’s not easily overwhelmed by strong flavors in your dish, and it pairs well with a variety of foods. Of course, there are some dishes it meshes with better than others, and that’s what we’ll cover today!
Types of Merlot
We won’t dig into the details, but for thinking in Merlot food pairing it’s good to know a little about why Merlot varies so much in taste. Merlot tastes different based on the climate where the grapes are grown.
Grapes from cooler climates, including places like France, Italy, and Chile, have more tannins and earthy flavors. With these varieties, you may get notes of tobacco and a drier taste, and these Merlots can be mistaken for other dry red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlots from warmer regions have a more voluptuous, fruity taste, with less prevalent tannins. You might find these wines from California, Australia, or Argentina, and they’ll be lighter in color and fuller-bodied.
What to Pair With Merlot
As a red wine, Merlot pairs well with the same dishes that go with the red wine spectrum. And of course, the fun thing about red wines is that they can be casual or gourmet depending on your mood—so you’ll find lots of options below to match your vibe!
In general, all Merlot wines pair well with lighter proteins like chicken, lamb, and turkey, but you can also pair them with lightly spiced dark meats. Try one with casual dishes like meatballs or mini pizzas, or drink them alongside fancier roast lamb or steak medallions. Fruitier merlots pair well with roasted vegetables, like potato skins, sauteed mushrooms, or roasted pearl onions. In addition, the dry and fruity tang of a warm-region Merlot can mesh well with tomato-based dishes, which can sometimes be hard to match with a good wine.
Ready for something sweet? Some wine enthusiasts insist that only sweet wines should be paired with dessert. I say the world is your kitchen—and pairing any wine with sweets is too good an opportunity to pass up! Drier merlots may be hard to pair, as the contrast with the sweet food can bring out the bitter tannins in the wine. However, fruitier merlots are a good match for sweets—my particular favorite being chocolates. (Pro tip: try it with a chocolate tarte or decadent dark chocolate candies.)
As with most wines, you don’t have to be too finicky about serving Merlot. Use these tips on Merlot food pairings for guidance, but don’t be afraid to experiment and find something that works well for your taste buds!