A Toast to National Merlot Day

Enticing dark fruit flavors.

A supple texture.

Soft tannins for early accessibility.

Merlot is the variety that has it all. It’s the red wine to drink while your Cabernet Sauvignon is aging.

If you happened to see the movie “Sideways,” you heard some pretty harsh words directed toward Merlot. They came from a character whose favorite wine was Pinot Noir.

Sorry. Criticizing one thing to make your case for another isn’t my preferred form of debate. That’s why I’m glad the mid-term election season is ending today.

When it comes to wine, there’s a lot to love about a lot of varieties, and that includes Merlot. If you happen to get into a debate with a Pinot Noir lover (which I am, too!), here’s some ammunition…

* Without Merlot, some of the greatest red wines in the world would not exist. It is a key ingredient in some of the incredible cuvees of Bordeaux.

* As a matter of fact, more Merlot is used in Bordeaux than Cabernet Sauvignon.

* One of the reasons Merlot is so important in Bordeaux is that it’s an early-ripening grape. Although Mother Nature makes no guarantees, Merlot is almost always harvested at optimum ripeness before the fall rains arrive.

* To many critics, the greatest wine in the world — especially in the best vintages — is Chateau Petrus. It is made from Merlot.

* The variety was named after a bird — specifically, the merle, which is the French word for little blackbird.

* Merlot’s spike in popularity during the 1990s can be credited to one man: Morley Safer. The late correspondent for “60 Minutes” loved the good life and all things associated with it, including classical music, fine art and wine. One of his reports for “60 Minutes” focused on the so-called “French Paradox,” which dealt with the French people’s high intake of saturated fat (butter, cream sauces, cheese) and low incidence of heart disease. Safer reported that the medical/scientific community had concluded that the paradox could be explained by the antioxidant properties of red wine. Almost immediately, there was a run on Merlot because 1) it was red, and 2) it was priced lower than Cabernet Sauvignon.

* Merlot does double-duty as a satisfying sipping wine and a versatile companion to food. It pairs nicely with everything from burgers to steaks, and from meatloaf to pizza.

If you haven’t had Merlot in a while, National Merlot Day provides a great “excuse” for opening a bottle and experiencing what you’ve been missing.

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