Merlot still suffers from the negative publicity it received in 2004 from the wine-themed movie Sideways. But even before that movie, Merlot had begun to be perceived as a beginner’s wine — soft and simple. We think that’s an unfair conclusion: inferior examples of Merlot are usually the result of overprinting in the wrong soil types rather than any intrinsic deficiencies in the grape. In fact, some of the most sought-after collectible wines are Merlot-based, including the great Bordeaux of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. A single bottle of the current vintage of Château Pétrus will fetch prices in the neighborhood of $4,000!
How can one grape manifests itself as both wine plonk and memorable classics? Seemingly a wine paradox, Merlot’s identify crisis may be cleared up by this oft-repeated winemaker’s adage: The quality of the wine is directly proportional to the quality of the vineyards.
Merlot is the second-most planted red wine grape in the world, so there is bound to be variation in quality. As with all grapes, location and the reputation of the winemaker are the two most important details when it comes to producing great wine. The characteristics that make Merlot a noble wine worthy of seeking out are its potential for aging, full, ripe berry flavors, plumy or fruitcake middle and, yes, that velvety, plush finish.