Top pairings | Which foods pair best with Merlot?

Pairings | Crispy duck pancakes

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 merlots

Tend 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 merlots

There’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 merlot

Italian-style sausages with fennel
Spaghetti and meatballs
Baked pasta dishes such as lasagne and similar veggie bakes
Macaroni cheese
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 Bordeaux

Beef Wellington ©Goskova Tatiana at

Grilled chops - veal, pork or lamb - especially with herbs such as thyme and rosemary
Steak, especially in a red wine sauce
Beef Wellington - as you can see here
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 blends

Basically 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

Image © karepa at

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Comments: 4 (Add)

Valleywines on September 14 2021 at 20:33

Well appointed advice.

Peter Cummings on January 3 2017 at 08:21

Beef Wellington goes well with a 2005 St. Emilion or a 2006 Brunello.
We drink an Alsation Edelzwicker, dry Riesling or Porugiese Vino Verde to quiche. Wine should be white, light, fruity and dry

Fiona Beckett on November 22 2012 at 06:53

You mean with Merlot? It wouldn't be my first choice but these things are always personal. If it's a combination you enjoy, go for it. Depends on the egg dish but with quiche I'd generally go for a dry white like an unbaked chardonnay or a pinot blanc

Diane on November 22 2012 at 01:54

What about egg dishes, like quiche? A strange question I know.

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