The World's Best Merlots

Merlot is a crowd pleaser, but it is too often dismissed as a
© NZ Winegrowers | Merlot is a crowd pleaser, but it is too often dismissed as a "beginner" wine.
Merlot is one of the world's most popular wines, so why doesn't it get more respect?
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Tuesday, 17-Nov-2020

Want a poster child for much of what's wrong with the wine world? Step forward Merlot.

Cruelly underappreciated by the so-called intelligentsia, Merlot has been on the wrong end of the received wisdom for a while now, even before Miles began unfairly traducing it in the movie Sideways. It has fallen out of favor with the cool kids.

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For some reason, the Bordeaux native is seen as being a "lesser" variety. Why this should be is something of a mystery, but there is a definite hint of derision whenever Merlot crops up in conversation among the type of wine elitists, influencers and many writers. It just isn't hip enough for the cool kids; it's a beginner wine.

Luckily for Merlot, it remains beloved by the public. Why? Flavor. And generosity. And approachability. In fact, all the things most people want a red wine to be are provided by this unsung grape, whose popularity is attested to by the sheer amount of it that is planted and turned into wine each year by producers and subsequently snapped up by consumers.

Perhaps the problem is that it is perceived as not being challenging enough for the wine snobs. Merlot is often accused of making plain, pretty, two-dimensional wines that don't perhaps require the same level of respect as Cabernet or Pinot Noir, presumably because Merlot rarely makes wines that are throat-cuttingly acidic or undrinkably tannic.

And yet, out in the real world, a place wine-bubble residents are often loath to visit, Merlot continues to fly off the shelves and that is a genuinely good thing – people enjoy it, and why shouldn't they? After all, it's an approachable, rewarding grape that tends to make smooth, inviting wines that – crucially – thousands of people clearly enjoy.

And if the snobs sniff and roll their eyes, simply stand back and watch their arguments against Merlot crash headlong into the immovable rock that is Petrus; it's an undeniable fact that Merlot is responsible for a wine universally acknowledged as one of the world's greatest. Indeed, it is responsible for at least three genuinely great wines, as the table below shows.

The list of the world's best Merlots demonstrates something else, too. Some of the world's wine critics are clearly underwhelmed by Merlot, given the comparatively lower scores than the corresponding lists for Bordeaux blends, Champagne and even Syrah.

Since we're ranking the wines according to how the critics score them, let's talk about how we arrive at our scores. Wine-Searcher collates scores from a wide range of critics, from influential single palates like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson to publications like Wine Spectator, all adjusted for the 100-point scale. To generate a wine's aggregate score, Wine-Searcher uses a Bayesian methodology to calculate a weighted average, since not all critics are equal. This score is calculated for specific vintages of a wine, as well as across all vintages.

The World's Best Merlots on Wine-Searcher:

The big takeaway from the list (apart from the unrelenting rise in price of Pomerol's top wines) is that Italy could lay claim to being Merlot's new spiritual home. With seven of this list coming from Italy, it's clear that producers there have taken to the grape and smothered it with affection, as though it was a long-lost relative. Merlot, in turn, has clearly been rewarding for them, too (although it should be pointed out that the last time we ran this list, there were eight Italian entries).

The Super Tuscan development was once seen as a shot in the arm for the Italian wine industry generally, but who would have thought that it would also provide a tonic to the reputation of one of France's great grape varieties? And it really couldn't happen to a nicer wine.

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