There are hundreds of grape varieties cultivated for winemaking globally, but only a handful make good enough wine to have earned household name recognition. Not only is merlot one of the top 10, two of its half-siblings have similar status. Merlot shares a parent with cabernet sauvignon on one side and with Malbec on the other. Until recently, merlot was more commercially successful than either of its relations, because it is easier to grow and makes such pleasant wines. Merlot vines still outnumber cabernet sauvignon in its native Bordeaux region by three to one, and merlot got far more traction outside of France than Malbec. But the fine-wine revolution that began in the ’70s has seen cabernet sauvignon and Malbec, which both have smaller berries with thicker skins that take a longer, warmer growing season to fully ripen, earn more and more attention for the power and depth of their wines, eclipsing the reputation of their softer, fruitier relation merlot. All three grapes make intense red wines that lead with flavors of blackberries and black cherries, like this organically grown example from Mendocino. But merlot’s strength is that it shares a family resemblance on both sides. Like cabernet sauvignon, its wines often feature an appetizing scent of green herbs behind its dark fruit. But like Malbec, it makes fleshier, more velvety wines that are less acidic and less astringent on the palate.
Bonterra Merlot. $12.99 (regularly $16.99; sale price through March 24). PLCB Item #7463.