As the most widespread grape varietal in the country of France, Merlot has made a name for itself in the world of wine drinkers. With a fruity taste reminiscent of cherries or strawberries, this soft wine has a smooth taste that makes it a favored choice for new wine drinkers and connoisseurs alike.

While the history of Merlot can be traced back to the late 1700s, this type of wine didn’t become commonplace for several years. Once wine enthusiasts realized how diverse Merlot was, they were eager to make it a regular staple at the dinner table.

Urban Myths About Merlot

When it comes to Merlot, there are plenty of misconceptions floating around about this smooth, rich-colored wine. One of the biggest urban myths originates from the 2004 film Sideways. When one of the main characters claimed that Merlot was a “boring” choice (in comparison to Pinot Noir), Merlot sales in the US took a surprising hit for the next several years.

While Merlot sales have mostly recovered over a decade later, some people may still believe that Merlot isn’t the right kind of wine to order at a restaurant or cafe.

Another common misconception that follows the Merlot name is that it isn’t affordable. While a vintage bottle of Merlot may cost a pretty penny, there are also plenty of affordable varieties that wine enthusiasts can purchase without sacrificing quality.

Another misconception surrounding red wine like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir is that they must be enjoyed at room temperature while white wine or even pink wine like rosé wine must be chilled. Although everyone might have their own preferences, Merlot is just as flavorful when it’s chilled as it is when it’s warm.

How To Serve Merlot and What Foods to Pair It With

One of the benefits of drinking Merlot is that there are very few things that it doesn’t pair well with. However, it does go better with some foods than others.

For instance, fruitier Merlots go well with a salad, pork, or even a light, grilled steak. These lighter Merlots still taste great with meat, but you tend to get the most flavor with dishes like chicken or roasted vegetables.

Merlots that have a more in-depth, smoother taste tend to taste best when they’re put next to a juicy hamburger topped with cheese or bacon. Generally, you’ll find that there isn't a ton of food that Merlot doesn’t pair with. While some seafood may not bring out the best in Merlot, there aren’t many limitations beyond that.

When it comes to serving Merlot at your dinner table, wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs may sniff their Merlot or even swirl it before they start drinking. New wine drinkers may have a few questions about how to swirl wine, why do you swirl wine, why do you smell wine, and how to smell wine.

Swirling can be a little more complicated than it looks, but the general procedure is to place your thumb at the bottom of the glass and move it in tiny circles, creating a “swirling” effect.

Cork vs. Twist Cap: What’s the Difference?

For years, wine enthusiasts have debated over the advantages of having a cork or twist cap on a bottle of wine. In the past, twist caps were typically only used on cheap bottles of Merlot, making some enthusiasts believe that anything with a screw cap must not be as good. However, these days, twist caps and corks are used interchangeably.

That being said, there are some differences between the two. While corks allow for a tiny bit of oxygen to get inside the bottle and react with the wine, a screw cap completely seals the bottle. As a result, some winemakers may use twist caps on bottles that are meant to be drunk young rather than aged.

Since a little oxygen can affect vintage wine positively, bottles that are meant to be stored for a few years before they’re drunk may use a cork. Ultimately, using a screw cap or cork has nothing to do with the quality of the wine itself. If you plan on storing the wine in your cellar for a couple of years before drinking, buying a bottle with a cork may be the right choice.

Pricing and the Best Bottles of Merlot to Keep on Hand

There’s no reason you need to wait until a special event or wine tasting to drink Merlot. When it comes to cost, the price of Merlot can vary from bottle to bottle. In a supermarket, it’s not unusual to find bottles that range anywhere from $5 to $50. In many cases, however, wine enthusiasts can find everything they want in a Merlot for under $50. Enthusiasts who travel to Europe and directly to vineyards may discover bottles of Merlot that are thousands of dollars.

Vintage bottles tend to land higher on the price scale, but common Merlot brands include Duckhorn Vineyards, Stags’ Leap, and Shafer Vineyards.

Whether you’re looking to keep a bottle of Merlot handy or in need of a gift idea, there are always a few affordable options that you can keep around the house. The 2016 Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot boasts a cost-effective price-tag but is still bursting with flavors like black cherry, spice, and leather.

For a Merlot that comes straight from California, the 2017 Bonterra Merlot uses a touch of wood flavors and is a great gift for family and friends. Since some wine enthusiasts might be looking for a new vintage to store, the 2008 Duckhorn Merlot from Napa Valley is a fruitier option that blends hints of blueberry, plum, and cherry.

With a fruity taste, full-body and smooth taste, it’s no wonder why Merlot remains one of the most popular wine choices in the world. While Merlot sales originally took a hit from the movie Sideways, wine drinkers are beginning to discover what makes this red wine so special.

How to Serve and Save Merlot Wine

What temperature do you serve merlot wine?

Full bodied reds like Merlot are mistakenly served at room temperature around 70 degrees. At this warmer temperature the alcohol dominates the underlying flavors. Merlot is best served at 60-65 so the drinker can enjoy the lush mouthfeel, rounded tannins and balanced acidity. Experts recommend refrigerating a bottle of Merlot 45 minutes and aerating it in a decanter for about 2 hours before you serve.

What type of glass is used to serve merlot wine?

Use a bordeaux wine glass to serve a strong full-bodied wine like merlot. Compared to standard red wine glasses, the bordeaux glass has a smaller bowl so the wine goes directly to the back of the mouth rather than hit and linger on the tongue. If you do not have a bordeaux glass, use a universal red wine glass (like Zalto Wine Glass) that has a full, round bowel and a large opening. The large opening will allow more surface area of the wine to contact with the air so more flavor and aroma is released.

Do you let merlot wine breathe before you serve?

Experts recommend refrigerating a bottle of Merlot 45 minutes and aerating it in a decanter for about 2 hours before you serve.

How to store and save used merlot wine after you open it?

While serving merlot, recork after each pour. Store used merlot bottles upright so less of the wine surface area is exposed to oxygen. Some experts recommend not uncorking bottles and using a device like Coravin when serving wine. This pierces the corker with a needle and tops the bottle with argon gas. Once you pour, and remove the Coravin needle, the bottle naturally seals again. Merlot wine should not be stored higher than 70 degrees so opened bottles are recommended to refrigeration. Opened and properly corked wine can be stored up to 7-14 days.