Melancholy Merlot… Maybe

I don’t know exactly why Merlot has fallen out of favor in recent years, but I have a few theories.  The most obvious one is the “Sideways effect” where Merlot was maligned as a wine that no “serious” wine drinker would consume.  It would have helped if the casual drinker had known that the fancy Bordeaux that Miles sips from a Styrofoam cup is actually Merlot, but I don’t think that this was the only, or even the most influential reason why Merlot has declined.  One indirect Sideways effect has led to less Merlot being grown (at least in California) as the demand for Pinot Noir led to much more of that grape being planted, and something had to pulled up to accommodate it, right?  But less Merlot isn’t a bad thing – more on that in a bit.

A main reason for Merlots decline is simply that there is so much more competition out there these days.  Many Merlot drinkers moved on to Shiraz, then Malbec and now red blends.  This is also not a bad thing – I’m all for people branching out.

Many times my customers say that they don’t like Merlot as they head to the Cabernet section.  I don’t understand this as Cabernet and Merlot have similar characteristics especially when you’re going to be drinking your wine immediately.  There’s a reason they blend so well together, and they can so often be interchanged on the table.  This is mainly because there was a lot of not so good Merlot out there in the under $20 range (which is the price that most people drink most of the time).  Couple that with the fact that Cabernet in that price has become much better – it used to be when I tasted through a line of wines that the Merlot would be better than the Cab, of late it has been the opposite.  As a retailer I have downsized my Merlot selection to half what it used to be.

But I see some hope in the future.  This year I have brought in a bunch of new (to my store) Merlots and I have been tasting more quality ones.  Some of these include the Clos LaChance at $14.99, Krug at $21.99 and Line 39 at $9.99.  The fact that there are fewer acres under vine has led to a better quality of the wines being made, and a quality Merlot has just as much to offer as Cabernet – good structure, tannins, oak balance and fruit, not to mention that it has traditionally been a more versatile food wine than Cab.  So the next time you’re reaching for that Cab, turn around and give a  Merlot a chance instead!

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