It’s officially winter time here in Italy! At the vineyard, though, we don’t mind. Winter means roaring fires and the smell of freshly-baked biscotti and plenty of good red wine. Perhaps our favorite winter wine of all is Italian Merlot.
Merlot is velvety and rich, and it’s always a perfect accompaniment for hearty winter fare such as pasta and meat. It’s taken a bit of a backseat over the last few years to more trendy wines such as Montepulcianos and Cabernet Sauvignons, but we think Merlot is hard to beat as the perfect wine for winter.
Merlot Basics Merlot, originally grown in France, is now one of Europe’s most popular wine grapes. The Veneto Region of Italy provides an ideal growing environment for the vines, not too hot nor too cold. Merlot can be aged in steel or oak and is low in tannins. It’s smooth-drinking, fruit-forward, low in acid, and medium- to full-bodied. It’s the perfect red to serve when you’re not exactly sure the tastes of your guests.
Fruit-Forward Merlots, when done well, are deliciously fruit-forward. Great Merlots can read of cherries, blackberries, and other wild berries, making them a breath of fresh air during winter’s produce freeze. The fruitiness of Merlot can be easily overpowered through oak aging, so timing is critical when it comes to creating a nuanced, balanced bottle.
Food Pairing As I mentioned earlier, Merlot pairs so beautifully with so many of winter’s common foods! For most people, winter is a season of hearty stews, braised meats, and rich sauces and gravies; Merlot is full-bodied enough to stand up to winter’s flavors without ruining the pallette with too much pepper or spice. It’s a wonderful compliment to Italian dishes, in particular, made with red meat, rice, or pasta.
Tradition Wins Yes, some may say Merlot is a “common” wine, but there’s a reason certain varietals become so ubiquitous. Merlot provides a comforting warmth that’s so predictable, so traditional, that its cozy in and of itself. Merlot is smooth and uncomplicated – but great Merlot is still complex! – and its high in flavor. What more could you ask for in a winter wine?
Crowd-Pleaser Is there a season more social than winter? (Well, here in Italy, we love to socialize year-round!) Merlot is an excellent wine for socializing because it’s so well-received. We love to bring Merlot as a hostess gift, serve it at a get-together, or bring out a case for the holidays because it’s a wine everyone loves.
At Candoni DeZan, we take our Merlot very seriously. We always hand-pick our Merlot grapes when they’re optimally ripe, providing an excellent balance of sweetness, tartness, and hints of fruit and vanilla.
We hope you enjoy your next bottle of Merlot knowing a little more about this all-star grape! Toast to good health, great wine, and of course, wintertime!
-Barbara Candoni De Zan