Since we started out with the King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, it seems only proper to follow up with Cab’s good buddy, Merlot.
The Biggest Question 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, too, because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.
The most important difference is that Merlot is thin skinned, compared to Cabernet, and slightly plumper, so it can be lighter in color and body (the grape skins are the source of all the color and most of the flavor, texture and tannin in red wine.) And, it’s less tannic, which translates to early drinking enjoyment, right? Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black, where Cab is firmly in black territory. And, it’s a bit more herbaceous and leaves a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured (tannic) and austere. I love Jancis Robinson’s characterization of Merlot as “Cabernet without the pain.”
The Impact of Sideways: Many blame this comedy (if you have ever toured wine country this movie is a must – my summary is “Two men behaving badly.”) for transforming Merlot from being the “it” red to a fifth wheel. But, what the lead character, Miles, forgot is that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, Chateau Pétrus, a great Bordeaux that is consistently one of the world’s most expensive wines, is – you guessed it – Merlot. It runs around $1000.00/bottle these days.
TRIVIA! The most expensive wine ever sold is a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite – a first growth from the Medoc). It went for $160,000 at a Christie’s auction in 1985. Thomas Jefferson’s initials, etched on the glass, added immeasurably to its value. Continue reading →
Does that ever happen to you? Happens to me all the time. My protein of choice seems to call for white, but I really want a glass of deep, satisfying red wine. Well, most often I say “The heck with it.” and have what I want. As I’ve said, ad nauseum, most wines and foods taste pretty good together and it’s silly to worry about pairing.
But, the fact is, if you haven’t actually cooked the protein yet, there are bridge builders you can use to make a better match.
You could use a pork chop as an example – or chicken breast – or even a piece of sword fish or halibut.
My favorite bridge builders?
Grill it! Those blackened, crusty grill marks can pull the dish into the red wine column. The grilled flavor loves tannin and makes the oak pop. Still not quite right? Add salt and lemon juice (thank you Tim Hanni.) Continue reading →
Barbara wrote in saying she knows the old rules about red wine with meat and white with fish have been thrown out. But then, what should she go by? This two-minute video explores some options:
I promised to flesh out the info in the video here on my blog. Here are a few points I didn’t have time to get to:
Flavor matching: This can be fun! If you’re serving a mushroom terrine, try serving it wine a wine that also has earthy flavors like Pinot Noir or Merlot. Or match the citrusy, herbaceous flavors of ceviche “cooked” in lime juice and served with tomato & cilantro salsa with the citrusy, grassy flavors of a Sauvignon Blanc.
I know I already said this in the video, but I want to drive home the fact that the preparation is often more important than the particular sort of protein in the dish. The cooking method, such as grilling vs. poaching, marinades and sauces can be better points of reference when you choose the wine than the meat, fish or chicken.
Regarding red wine with meat: As mentioned before, matching big flavors makes sense and I’ll add that the marbling in red meats has a softening effect on the tannins in the wine. It’s just another reason that most of us love red wine with our steak. Continue reading →
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.