Origin: Bordeaux, France
Mugshot: The rather unremarkable, slightly dumpy spouse to the bigger burlier Cabernet Sauvignon. A few more feminine curves and a few less rough edges than the Cab, Merlot is (according to Tim Atkins) often referred to as “Cab with without the pain”. But ask Paul Giamatti’s Sideways character Miles, and he’ll tell you that Merlot is also “Cab without the awesome”.
It’s fruitier, sweeter, lighter and less acidic than Cabernet, but most relevant is that, when people try to talk about merlot, they find it nigh on impossible to do without referencing Cabernet Sauvignon. Because without “the king of grapes” as a blending partner, Merlot is like Lethal Weapon’s Danny Glover without Mel Gibson – safe, by-the-book, kinda anxious, and not much fun to watch. Unless!!! Unless there is a presence, like Mel, crazy enough to incite some gloriously watchable cinematic high jinx. And that is why Merlot is most relevant when it is bringing balance to the majestically unbridled force that only Cabernet Sauvignon can be.
Caveat: I have drunk some incredible straight merlots. There. I said it.