Wine is a living product, which means it has a lifespan. You’ll want to consume most wines within three years of their release. However, the highest quality wines can live for twenty to thirty years. I tasted a Madeira that was produced in 1802, and it tasted young.
Curious how to serve and store Merlot to maximize its flavor and lifespan? Here is some advice on how to get the most out of your favorite Merlots.
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What is Merlot?
Let’s start by defining our terms.
A widely planted grape, Merlot is commonly found in the traditional Bordeaux red blend. Merlot is versatile, and often found as a common varietally-labeled wine.
Merlot ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It does an excellent job at providing body to a blend. Merlot’s fruit flavors range from cranberry to blackberry depending on where it is planted. The final result is also due to how much time it spends on the vine.
What is the traditional Bordeaux red blend?
When produced on the right bank of the Gironde river, traditional Bordeaux blend leads with Merlot. Alternatively, the blend often leads with Cabernet Sauvignon if produced on the river’s left bank. Either way, traditional Bordeaux is rounded out with Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenère.
Bordeaux blends are named for the region in Southwestern France where they were originally produced. However, the blend has become common all over the new world…and even in Tuscany!
Should Merlot be served chilled?
Merlot should not be chilled. You should serve most Merlot at room temperature. Merlot that is served too cold has less pronounced fruit flavors. Muted Merlot tastes more acidic and more bitter.
Some Merlot is under 12.5% alcohol. You can get away with serving Merlot that has lower alcohol lightly chilled.
What is the best temperature to serve Merlot?
Room temperature is the range you want to target, between 59-64°F. Aim to pull the bottle out of your cellar right before you plan to serve it.
If needed, you can pull it up to about an hour before (this depends on the specific temperature of your storage space or device). Most storage locations/devices vary from 50-59°F.
How does this serving temperature differ from other types of wines?
The serving temperatures for different kinds of wine can vary dramatically. You want to serve your sweet wines and sparkling wines closer to 43°F (or well chilled).
Lighter whites should be closer to 45°F (or chilled). Full-bodied whites can come up to 50°F (or lightly chilled). Light reds do well at 55°F. Finally, medium to full-bodied red wines should start at 59°F, warming up slightly in the glass.
What about White Merlot – do you chill it?
White Merlot is rosé wine. Hence, it’s also known as a rosé of Merlot. Rosé made with Merlot is common in California and Bordeaux. They can be wonderful. You want to treat rosé the way you would treat a light white wine. Serve it chilled; bring it down to 45°F.
Are there varying preferences for serving temperature?
Of course! Preferences vary for what temperature to serve any wine at. When I drink full-bodied white wines I like to let their temperature come up closer to 55°F.
I also personally love to drink wine outdoors. My favorite place to drink wine is in my canoe. In that situation, I end up drinking my Merlot closer to 64°F if not a few degrees over.
Any other best practices for serving Merlot?
You want to make sure you use a larger wine glass. Larger glasses help expose the wine to oxygen faster. This set of 2 Montrachet glasses from Riedel are perfect for drinking Merlot.
When you drink Merlot you want to have something to eat with it also. Even if you are serving the wine outside of a meal, go ahead and put out some toast with olive oil. Have something to bring the acidity of the wine into balance so you can enjoy your glass.
What are the best practices for storing Merlot?
When you store bottles of Merlot, keep the typical “best practices” in mind that you use with most of your wines:
- The cellar (or wine cooler) should consistently be between 50-59°F
- Store corked wine on its side. This allows the cork to stay wet.
- Finally, keep wine away from strong light and vibrations while aging
Should you store Merlot in the refrigerator?
You should not refrigerate Merlot if it has a cork. Corks can dry out in that environment and the wine will spoil. Refrigerators see wide temperature changes from daily use and artificial light. They are unsuitable for the long-term storage of unopened bottles of Merlot. If you plan to open the bottle of wine within three weeks they can be used.
What are the best practices for storing open, unfinished bottles of Merlot?
Refrigerators can be effective tools for preserving wine after you open them. Chemical reactions happen more slowly at low temperatures. As a result, keeping wine in the refrigerator will preserve them a few days longer. However, keep in mind that you’ll have to give the wine forty-five minutes to an hour to come up to room temperature.
Coravin devices are effective for preserving bottles of Merlot between glasses, but you still have to keep the wine at cellar temperature between tastings.
Finally, the Vacu Vin Wine Saver is a more affordable alternative to the Coravin. This product allows you to vacuum seal your opened bottle.
What about short-term vs long-term storing (or aging)?
The worst place to keep wine, whether aging short term or long term, is in the kitchen. Kitchens tend to have the widest temperature changes of any room in your home. This is a challenge for those smaller restaurants that you love.
Don’t age (most) Merlots long term. But everyone has their personal, unique wine preferences. Should you choose to age a Merlot, go for one with a high acidity and high intensity of fruit.
What is the optimal temperature to store Merlot?
For long-term storage, you want to keep your merlot between 50-59°F.
How does this storing temperature differ from other types of wines?
Wines should be kept at a constant temperature. You need to make sure the temperature you achieve for your cellar is constant. The temperature should not vary widely throughout the day. Improper cellar management can render your favorite wines undrinkable.
Kevin John O’Neill won his WSET level 3 award in 2018. He was a judge in the 2019 New Orleans International Wine Awards. In addition to his experience developing wine brands, he’s also managed millions of dollars in annual wine and spirits revenue.