Serving wine at the proper temperature can increase your enjoyment of its flavors and aromas. Like other reds, Merlot benefits from a warmer serving temperature than white wines, allowing you to enjoy the plummy and soft flavors that characterize wines made from the Merlot grape.
Merlot Serving Temperatures
When you've carefully chosen a bottle of wine to serve, you want to display it at its very best, allowing its flavors to open up on your palate. When Merlot is too cold, the flavors hide and you miss out on the wine's best characteristics. When it is too warm, the alcohol in the wine comes to the forefront, masking all of the subtleties in taste and aroma.
The common misconception is that red wines, including Merlot, should be served at room temperature; however, most rooms with temperatures set for comfort are around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is simply too warm for Merlot, which hosts subtle flavors that can be quickly overwhelmed when the alcohol of the wine is at the forefront. This shift to a predominance of alcohol in red wine occurs above about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, lower alcohol Merlots can tolerate a little warmer serving temperature than those with higher alcohol.
In general, Merlot benefits from a serving temperature of between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. With that in mind, variations in the wine's style may benefit for serving temperature fluctuations within that range. For example:
- A new vintage Merlot out of Lodi displaying characteristics of very soft, simple fruit, low alcohol and not a ton of complexity can be served in a wide range of temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees, because the alcohol is low and the fruit flavor is more up front and ready to drink.
- A more expensive Merlot from Napa or Bordeaux's Right Bank comes from a higher elevation and older vines, and may display more tannin complexity/layers of flavor. Thus, this type of wine benefits from a slightly warmer serving temperature of about 60 to 64 degrees. Too cold temperatures will disguise the wine's nuances and flavors, while too wine warm will enhance the alcohol and destroy flavors.
- A very powerful, robust New World Merlot from South America, Australia, or California may have high alcohol levels, ripe fruit, and powerful flavors. Serve this wine with a little more chill at around 55 degrees. A cooler temperature will reduce the effect of the alcohol on the palate.
Finding Your Serving Temperature
Ready to find the perfect serving temperature for you?
- Start with a bottle of Merlot that has been cellared at a temperature of about 55 degrees.
- Pour a glass and take a sip. Write down what you taste.
- Wait ten minutes and take another sip, writing down what you notice.
- If you have a thermometer handy, stick it in the glass and try drinking a sip every 3 degrees or so.
You will notice a drastic change in perception of how that wine tastes and feels to you. You may find the "sweet spot" where it was just perfect! Many wine refrigerators and cellars have dual climate control. If so, you may be able to keep wines at two different temperatures in the same cellar so you can pull them out to drink right away.
Guidelines, Not Rigid Rules
When it comes to wine serving temperatures, there is no rigid, correct answer. That goes for everything else in wine, as well. From serving temperatures to wine glass shapes, you will find suggestions but not directives. What works best is finding the way you most enjoy drinking wine, which involves experimenting and trying new things.Therefore, when you are seeking the right temperature to serve Merlot, you should discover the temperature that most enhances your personal enjoyment.