A crucial component of Bordeaux and Meritage blends, Merlot produces a rich, velvety-textured red that can add fleshy roundness to tannic Cabernet-based wines. Despite what you may have seen in the movie Sideways, the grape variety comes from noble stock and plays a leading role in some of the world's most famous wines—like Château Cheval Blanc, Petrus and Tenuta dell'Ornellaia's Masseto. But while those bottles will run up an impressive tab, there are great values to be had in the Côtes de Bordeaux, Fronsac and beyond. As a stand-alone grape, Merlot is known for its plum-like fruit flavors and its ability to be consumed younger than many other full-bodied varieties. Planted in warmer climates, such as in California and Australia, its fruit may come across as borderline sweet, accented by chocolaty mocha flavors.
Though it’s taken some abuse in the wake of the film Sideways, Merlot remains a classic grape that produces delicious wines. The most widely planted grape in France’s Bordeaux region isn’t Cabernet Sauvignon; it’s Merlot.