Holiday Gifts: A Good Merlot

Before you purchase the gift of wine for your loved ones this year you may want to read up on ‘why’ you’re buying a specific wine or which wine is best for the occasion. Sure, you can go blindly into the wilderness of Christmas (or Holiday) shopping or you can learn up on it.

You’d not buy a diamond without knowing a bit about diamonds, right? Then why buy a bottle of wine without the same effort?

Okay, sure, price is a consideration… you’ll probably invest more money in a diamond than in a bottle of wine but both are built to impress their gift receiver so put in a little effort!

First, it’s good to know a bit about the name of a specific wine. In this case, we’re talking about Merlot which is named for the type of grape it is derived from: the Merlot grape. This is a United States concept because Europeans name their wines based on the location of the wine (a Bordeaux wine is from the Bordeaux region of France, Burgundy, Champagne… you see the pattern?)

The name of the grape isn’t nearly as important as the grape itself because it determines how the wine is going to taste; it’s “personality” or “feeling.” A Merlot grape is smooth and sweet so it makes for a good wine drinking experience. It has lower tannins which changes how the wine reacts in your mouth compared to some other wines.

What the heck is a tannin?

“Tannins (mainly condensed tannins) are also found in wine, particularly red wine. Tannins in wine can come from many sources and the tactile properties differ depending on the source. Tannins in grape skins and seeds (the latter being especially harsh) tend to be more noticeable in red wines, which are fermented while in contact with the skins and seeds.” (wikipedia)

In short, tannins are going to effect you in two ways: bitter tastes and a feeling in your mouth known as ‘mouthfeel.’ A wine with lower tannins (aka Merlot) will tend to have a less bitter taste and perhaps even a smooth feeling on its way down. You should also know that recent research suggests that tannins help reduce the chemicals that harden your arteries thus helping to prevent certain heart conditions.

Special care has to be given to how you crush the grapes, if you simply stomp on them or otherwise ‘crush’ them you’re going to also crush the seeds which contain a good deal of strong tannins. The end result will be a bitter tasting wine. You must crush them gently and take care with what you’re doing.

You’ll find a Merlot is fruity tasting with a softer taste while a wine like Cabernet Sauvignon which will have a firm stronger taste with a bit of bitter. Merlot will also be ready to drink earlier, requiring less aging and tends to be a preferred wine in North America.

A Merlot is a more flexible choice of wines for gift giving this holiday, especially if you don’t know what type of wine your recipient really loves (if any). Unless you know their a fan of a stronger Cabernet, a Shiraz or Pinot Noir just stick with a Merlot.

As a matter of fact, I would suggest a Ravenswood Merlot this holiday season. It’s a great price, not too cheap and not too steep and the taste is hard to match.


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