Hearing a lot of buzz about merlot? It's not just because October is International Merlot Month. Sales of the "luxury" medium-bodied red wines made from merlot grapes have increased 5% over the past year, while sales of merlots of $100 or more are up 8% in restaurants, reports Bloomberg. Consider, too, that a 2016 Wine Intelligence report found merlot to be the top varietal choice for US drinkers of all ages and you might just be forced to overthrow all preconceived notions of merlot as, well, gross. When made well, it's actually quite delicious, "medium-bodied with velvety soft, rounded plummy fruits and none of those drying tannins associated with Cabernet Sauvignon," Gus Clemens writes at the San Angelo Standard-Times.
So why the bad rap? Bloomberg explains merlot has always been a favorite in Bordeaux, France, where it's the most planted vine. In the 1990s, Americans started fancying the grape, too, prompting the number of merlot cases sold in the US to spike from 800,000 in 1990 to 20.3 million in 2000. To get in on the trend, California wineries who'd never made merlot before began to plant the grape in unsuitable soils and climates and "overwrought, overripe, over-alcoholic and over-oaked" merlots took over shelves, reports Hour Detroit. The wine's reputation further plummeted after it was bashed in the 2004 film Sideways, says Clemens; many of those California wineries producing mass-market swill ripped out their vines as a result. Yet experienced merlot growers kept making delicious wine, which now appears to be getting due recognition. Clemens' advice: "Give merlot another chance." (Read more wine stories.)