“Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile” - Homer

I’ve often said that you have to be an idiot to make a bad Merlot but, praise the lord, there are very few of them in the wine world. The next level up for Merlot would be acceptable or nice, rapidly followed by exceptional. Thankfully there’s one wine making country in the world that is excelling in the exceptional when it comes to Merlot and that is of course South Africa with the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions leading the way.

Merlot is one of the main grapes of Bordeaux but it’s fame and fortune soared over the last couple of decades of the 20th century with quality plantings all over the New World.

Winemakers realised the potential of this easy to grow and easy to drink variety, initially as a blender with Cabernet as in Bordeaux but later as a fabulous single variety. I adore it which is a good thing in our household because my good lady does as well. I think I rank alongside Merlot and just below the kids and numb-nuts our lovely buck toothed terrier. Interestingly, Merlot was originally created as a cross involving Cabernet Franc which is probably my all time favourite single grape wine.

There are two widely recognised styles of Merlot that used to be categorised as Bordeaux style which involves early harvesting to retain more acidity and International style in which the grapes are harvested later to create a fuller body with lush tannins. Nowadays the latter style is becoming more and more practised in France as well, as vineyards have realised the full potential of the grape and that the rich plummy late harvested grapes make just as good a blending partner as the old style. There is also a style called white Merlot that looks like a rose with anemia but avoid it like the plague; personally I’d rather trim my finger nails and wax my legs because life really is too short for it.

So, what should you look for in a cracking Merlot? First of all it should be inky black in the glass with ripe juicy red fruits on the nose, perhaps interspersed with vegetal or flowery notes. The palate should be full of chewy redcurrants and cherries or even ripe plums with hints of chocolate and the texture should be velvety and really luxurious. So there you are folks, for happiness in a glass is called Merlot and if you want to play it really safe if it’s a gift, aim for South Africa! Pip pip.


Steenberg Merlot: Summer fruits and lavender on the nose with ripe cherry and chocolate flavours on the palate backed up by just enough refreshing acidity to make your palate yearn for more. Richardsons of Whitehaven £17.95

Mount Rozier Merlot: A slightly earthy, Bordeaux style of Merlot with roasted plums and walnuts on the nose, soft silky tannins and rich redcurrants on the palate. Cumbrian Co op £8.00