Tag Archives: Buying Merlot

How to Select Red Wine


malbec, UC Davis

Question from Lindsay: Everytime I go to the store to buy wine for a gift or a party, I’m overwhelmed by the choices.  I know there are Merlots, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a few other types, but I have absolutely no idea what the difference between all of them are.  To me, they are all red. Can you give a brief overview of the general differences. 

Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! This is another good question that lots of other people have. A few weeks ago I decided to write about a different grape variety every week, so soon there will be fairly detailed info on the most popular varieties available on the blog. Just do a search by variety. In the meantime, a broad-brush stroke for these reds is a great idea and will be this week’s grape(s) of the week 😉

Disclaimer 😉

Characteristics vary, a little or a lot, depending upon where the wine is grown and how it was made.
Here we go:

Cabernet Sauvignon:

Weight: Full bodied – big – substantial. And deeply colored. If you’re not sure what I mean by weight, you might compare it to the way milk feels on your palate: Light bodied = skim milk; Medium bodied = whole milk; Full-bodied = cream.

Flavor profile: Black fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, black currant; it may show earth, cedar, bell pepper, green olive or any number of other descriptors, depending, again, on where it’s grown and how the wine is made. When the winemaker chooses new barrels for aging the wood may add vanilla, spice, smoke, grilled bread, mocha, nutty character or a sense of toastiness.

Pucker factor (Tannin): Very noticeable. Tannin runs around your mouth seeking out protein and then clings to it. That’s what accounts for the drying, gripping sensation. Cab has thick skins and the skins are the source of the color and most of the tannin. 

If you sometimes think you’re drinking Merlot and it turns out to be a Cab – or vice versa – there’s a good reason. These grapes are similar. Take Cabernet back a notch and it begins to look more like Merlot.

Weight: Medium to full bodied

Flavor profile: Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black: Currant, black cherry, plum, violet, herb-like, earthy; Oak will add some of the woody characteristics described for the Cab.

Pucker factor: Usually noticeable, but softer than Cab. Merlot can leave a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured. Continue reading



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Ya Gotta Love Merlot


The educator in me can’t resist following up on the last post, about buying Merlot, by telling you more about the grape, itself. 

Retailers and vintners still tell me that Merlot is a tough sell, thanks to the movie “Sideways.” Wow! That movie was popular a long time ago!! Anyway, when the main character in the movie says “I’m not drinking any f-ing Merlot!” he forgot that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, the most expensive wine on the planet, Chateau Pétrus, is – you guessed it – Merlot.

He also forgot that even though Cabernet gets all the attention these days, Merlot is the most widely planted grape of Bordeaux. It’s kind of like an insurance policy for the growers. If late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon gets rained out, Merlot ripens earlier and may save the vintage.


Merlot’s roots: France, probably Bordeaux – there’s not a lot of information as to its origins, but records show that it has been cultivated in Bordeaux since at least the late 1700s. While Cabernet-based blends dominate the left bank of the great Gironde river, look to the right bank for Merlot. The most famous right-bank regions are Pomerol and St. Émilion. 

One of the most common questions I hear at seminars and classes is “What’s the difference between Cabernet and Merlot?” It’s a good question because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.

Continue reading

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Which are the Best Merlots?


Question from Diana: Can you give me a guide to the different Merlots. Which one taste better and the different prices?

Reply: Hi, Diana. Thanks for writing! I’m a Merlot lover too.

I’m afraid that “tastes better” is a personal matter, just as it is with any other food. How much garlic do you like in your spaghetti sauce? Do you put mustard or ketchup on your hot dogs – or both? We don’t all appreciate the same things. 

I have two pieces of advice for you. 

1. Find a good wine retailer who knows his wine, his inventory and is service oriented. Develop a good relationship with him.  This is one of the best ways to explore and learn about wine. The wine may cost a little more than it does at the grocery or big-box store, but the advice of an experienced professional is absolutely worth the cost. 

There are a gazillion brands of Merlot from all over the world with prices ranging from$1.99 for “two-buck Chuck” Merlot to ~$2500.00/bottle for Chateau Petrus. You need someone right there with you when you make your choice. 

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