I’ve heard several jokes the past few years about Merlot wine being this upper-middle-class wine snob type wine. I’m just not seeing it – Merlot is EVERYWHERE! If a place has only 2 types of red wine, one is guaranteed to be a merlot. If they only have one it’ll be either a Merlot or Cab. When I want to be fancy myself, I drink Pinot Noir (yes, sideways I know) or Malbec because not only do I prefer them to Merlot, I can actually tell the difference between two Pinots that I can’t with Merlot unless it’s really bad. Actually, my ideal wine is most Crus Beaujolais, but places never have that – if they have any Beaujolais at all it will be Jadot Villages. And the only places that have a more than 50/50 chance of even having that are places with a hundred-plus wine list and they will sell the $12 bottle of Beaujolais for $40.
So tell me where this comes from – are there wine snobs looking for the perfect Merlot? I’d think it would be more likely with Cab or a Bordeaux blend. Or is it just people trying too hard to make a joke and using the first wine type that comes to mind?
I can see places not wanting to carry Beaujolais, it often some of the worst wine from France. Even Cru Beaujolais does not have a very long shelf life, so I imagine that restaurants do not buy large quantities.
There are great merlots, but you probably can’t find and/or afford them. The American varietal merlots you see everywhere are mainly from the vines planted only in the last 20 years, as a response to the red-wine boom that was fueled by medical reporting. A whole segment of the American wine market shifted from “white” zinfandel and over-oaked chardonnay, to merlot, because it was red, and soft.
Yes, but the film is slightly subversive. The easter egg in the movie is that Paul Giamatti’s character’s prized 1961 Cheval Blanc ( that he famously slurps up out of foam cup when he hits rock bottom ) is actually a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, the two varietals he dissed in the movie ;).
Merlot is just a grape, nothing more. Whether it makes a good wine depends on a million individual circumstances including personal preference. I don’t know what “high class” is even supposed to mean – if it means price, Merlot spans the whole range from swill to super expensive because it’s such a common varietal. I’m certainly no expert or “wine snob” – I just drink the stuff – but in my experience it’s the winery, vineyard and vintage that is one of the major quality determinants, not the grape type.
There are also categories of wines that are expensive because they’re in short supply – a good example being French Sauternes and Canadian icewines, which are made from single varietals or blends of perfectly ordinary grapes that have endured specific climate conditions (botrytis cinerea or noble rot for the former, and freezing on the vine for the latter, and sometimes combinations thereof) that have caused them to shrivel and produce limited supplies of intensely concentrated, sweet wines of exquisite flavor that are much valued as dessert wines.
Otherwise, the grape type or blend is almost useless as a predictor of anything, and I pay far more attention to reviews and the little commentary cards at the wine store. Even the notorious Grenache seems to have been somewhat redeemed. This is a robust thick-skinned grape that can survive long storage, transportation, and general abuse and became a staple of winemaking during the Prohibition era, which often involved multiple pressings of the same batch of grapes, and became infamous for producing the most God-awful swill imaginable. Today you’ll find it in blends with fairly decent wines and even in Grenache varietals. I’m personally a little leery of it, but others disagree, so there you go.
Merlot was the wine the French used to mellow out the taste of other varietals. Remember, traditional French wines got their name from the wine growing region, not the type of grape. A Burgundy would be a mix of grapes, including Merlot.
There are certain advantages to that, but in the US (once wine was once again marketed after Prohibition), the “wine region” names were used indiscriminately. Hearty red wine? That’s a Burgundy. White wine? Call it Chablis!
As smaller wineries slowly competed with Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony, et. al., they got away from the regional names and went to varietals. But a varietal only has to be 51% of the wine it takes its name from. There are no doubt many Cabernets that use Merlot to soften the flavor.
Merlot as a varietal is just another example. Merlot is a dependable red, but there are far better wines.
Yes, you raise several good points. It’s a peculiar thing about North American wineries (Canada as well as the US) that our wines are classified by grape varietals whereas French wines are classified by regions and appellations.
Merlot wines can be very, very good and expensive (Petrus). They can also be dreck. The same can be said for any number of grape varietals where sheer grape and case production outweighs careful vineyard tending, the type of fermentation process used, etc.
To be fair, cab franc by itself is exactly as described; by itself it has little body and is typically either used for blending or as the basis of an eiswein. Merlots have been overproduced as a popular varietal and so there are a lot of mediocre labels, but there is nothing wrong with it in a well vinted wine. It is slightly ironic that Miles prized wine is a blend of his two most disliked varietals, but then, it is clearly illustrated that he’s more of a snob than an enthusiast, and also kind of a passive-aggressive jerk.
Actually, it makes more sense, at least from the consumer perspective. I can make a rough guess at what a wine may pair best with based upon the blend of varietals, but have to know the specific label with French wines to have a guess. And frankly, most French wines are sold locally (except for really big labels) while many of the American (and newer winemakers in Australia, South Africa, et cetera) are made with an intent for regional, national, or international distribution.