Which foods pair best with Merlot?
Merlot has one of the widest ranges of styles of any red wine from the light, quaffable merlots of the Veneto to the grandest of Bordeaux. Obviously one type of food doesn’t go with them all but merlot is your flexible friend when it comes to wine pairing, smoother, rounder and less tannic than cabernet sauvignon with which, of course, it is often blended.
Unlike cabernet you can drink it comfortably with a range of Italian dishes, especially tomato-based ones and it responds very well to the ‘umami’ (i.e. deeply savoury) tastes you get in foods such as roast chicken, mushrooms and parmesan.
Because a great many merlots are medium-bodied they tend to pair well with richly sauced dishes such as steak (or even fish) in a red wine sauce or with casseroles, where a more powerfully tannic wine would be overwhelming. (It’s also a good wine to use when you’re cooking, making a rich base for red wine sauces)
Merlot-friendly accompaniments for main dishes are caramelised roast veggies especially those with a touch of sweetness, such roast squash, red peppers and beets and - as mentioned above - fried or grilled mushrooms.
Fruity merlots also pick up on red fruit-based accompaniments such as cranberry sauce and salads that contain red berry fruits
Because of its inherent sweetness it also works well with foods that have a touch of hot spice, not so much Indian spicing as hot and smoked pepper: dishes such as blackened fish or jambalaya. I also find it works with the anise flavour of five spice and fennel.
The best food pairings for different styles of merlot
Light, quaffable merlotsTend to work with dishes with which you might otherwise drink a gamay or a sangiovese:
Pizza and other toasted cheese dishes such as panini and quesadillas
Pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces, especially with pancetta/bacon or mushrooms
Grilled chicken, especially with Mediterranean grilled veg such as peppers, courgettes/zucchini and aubergines/eggplant
Charcuterie (e.g. pâtés, terrines and salamis)
Cold York ham
Medium-bodied merlotsThere’s some overlap here between styles but a typically ripe new world merlot from, say, Chile will obviously take more robust, rustic flavours than a leaner more classic wine from. Bordeaux, particularly if the latter has a bit of bottle age.
Riper, fleshier styles of merlotItalian-style sausages with fennel
Spaghetti and meatballs
Baked pasta dishes such as lasagne and similar veggie bakes
Burgers - especially cheeseburgers
Spicy rice dishes such as jambalaya
Bean dishes with smoked ham or chorizo
Roast turkey (a ripe merlot makes a good Thanksgiving or Christmas bottle)
Mild to medium (but not very strongly flavoured) hard cheeses
Seared - even blackened - salmon
Chinese style crispy duck pancakes
Braised short ribs
Chicken, pork or rabbit casseroles with a fruity element such as apricots or prunes
Classic, elegant merlots or merlot-dominated blends e.g. from BordeauxGrilled chops - veal, pork or lamb - especially with herbs such as thyme and rosemary
Steak, especially in a red wine sauce
Roast beef or lamb with a simple jus or a mushroom sauce
Roast chicken, turkey and guineafowl
Simply roast duck - and Chinese crispy duck pancakes
With older vintages keep the sauces and accompaniments simple. Anything with mushrooms or truffles will be a good match
Full-bodied rich merlots or merlot-dominated blendsBasically you can pair these with the same sort of dishes with which you’d drink a cabernet sauvignon - especially chargrilled steak, roast beef and roast lamb - preferably served rare
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