Merlot Food Pairing: Matches & Clashes



Merlot is an incredibly versatile food wine because its characteristics land right in the middle for red wine. It’s bolder than Pinot Noir but lighter and softer than Cabernet or Syrah. It’s medium levels of tannin make it easy to drink on its own while being structured enough to pair with a variety of food.


This wine is one of the star players in the French Bordeaux blends. At the same time, it’s often overshadowed by the ever-popular Cabernet Sauvignon. This means you can obtain top quality Merlot at a great value.


When considering what food to pair with Merlot, it’s important to consider how the food is prepared along with the seasonings and sides. We’ll look at this in two layers. The first layer we’ll call the Meal Base which focuses on the type of meat like steak or lamb. The second layer considers the seasonings and sides. It’s actually this second layer that makes all the difference when pairing food and wine.



Merlot Taste Characteristics


First let’s consider the typical Merlot taste profile. This will help guide us to the best food pairings.


Merlot is a medium- to full-bodied red wine. It typically has a range of fruit notes from red cherry to black cherry and blackberry. Because of Merlot’s strong fruit character, it pairs well with fruit sauces. You’ll find spice notes of vanilla and clove from aging in oak barrels. It's a dry wine with a medium level of acidity and ranges from 13.5-14.5% alcohol by volume.


Merlot from cool climates like France and Washington state will be on the lighter end of the spectrum with a medium body, red fruit notes, and lower alcohol. Coming from warmer climates like California, it will have a full-body, black fruit notes, and higher alcohol.



Merlot Food Pairing Matches


Let’s dig into the food pairing matches. Keep in mind that the seasonings and preparation can really bring out the best flavors between the food and the wine.


Layer 1: Meal Base

  • Red meats like lamb, duck, veal, filet mignon, and burgers.

  • White meats like chicken, turkey, and pork.

  • Weighty seafood like salmon and tuna.

Layer 2: Seasonings & Sides

  • Roasted or grilled sides like mushrooms, tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, onions, black beans, potatoes, and squash.

  • Sauces like red fruit or black fruit sauces and red tomato sauces.

  • Cream-based sauces that incorporate any combination of merlot, mushrooms, garlic, shallots.

  • Spices like rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, red pepper, garlic, anise, ginger, saffron, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.


Pair Merlot with meals like:

  • Beef Bourguignon

  • Beef Bolognese

  • Roast Duck with fruit sauce

  • Grilled Pork Chops with fruit sauce

  • Pizza

  • Pasta with meatballs

  • Cajun Jambalaya



Merlot Food Pairing Clashes


Layer 1: Meal Base

  • Seafood like oysters, crab, shrimp. Lightweight fish like trout and tilapia.

Layer 2: Seasonings & Sides

  • Leafy green vegetables or uncooked vegetables.

  • Lemon based sauces or dressings.

  • Spices like cilantro, basil, and dill.










Merlot Food Pairing Summary


When matching wine with food, it’s important to consider the weight and flavors of the wine and match that to the weight and flavors of the food. For Merlot, it pairs best with mid-weight foods and sauces along with preparations of roasting, braising, and grilling. Caramelized vegetables with seasonings of garlic and shallots marry the flavors nicely with Merlot.


Test out different preparations and seasonings for yourself. Try some of the matches and clashes and decide for yourself. Have fun with it! Bon Appétit!

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