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Grape Varietals

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Arguably the red wine of the 1990s, Merlot came out of practically nowhere to become America's favorite red grape, led by easy-drinking bottlings from California. Why Merlot? Some believe simply that when Americans started turning to red wines for their heart-healthy implications, soft, plummy Merlot hit the spot. It didn't hurt that it's easy to say and proved to be as easy on the pocketbook as the palate.

Flavors and aromas: New World Merlots are usually nicely fruit-forward—their plum flavors and soft, velvety textures make these wines an easy-drinking, much-loved sip. You might also find some oak, vanilla, and spice as you swirl and savor. French and Italian Merlots generally show a little more earthiness and bite.


Color: Ranges from lighter purple to a deep, dark, purplish red.

Prominent plantings: The most famous Merlots hail from Bordeaux, where the grape has always been used as a blending partner, adding suppleness to more muscular Cabernet Sauvignon. Pomerol is among the most famous of the Merlot-based Bordeaux blends. In the New World, tasty examples come from Australia, Washington state, and Long Island as well.

Pairing with food: Merlot's middle-of-the-road character makes it a comfortable choice when entertaining, and it can be enjoyed with a wide range of foods, including pork, turkey, burgers, and veggie dishes. Then again, the smooth texture also makes it easy to enjoy on its own.

Insider tip: Many vines in Chile that were long considered to be Merlot turned out to be Carmenere, a little seen, ancient grape from Bordeaux. Carmenere looks like Merlot, grows like Merlot, even tastes like Merlot, and is now appearing on more labels each year—give this wine a try if you're a Merlot fan.

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