Merlot is a red wine grape variety that is known for producing wines with soft, approachable characteristics ready for easy drinking any day of the week.
Merlot wines generally don’t have the same aging potential as some other red wine varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo, but there are still certain Merlot wines that can benefit from cellaring. Over time, aged Merlot wines express dried cherry, plum, flower, and tobacco notes.
Here’s what you need to know about the aging potential of Merlot wines, optimal storage conditions, recommended aging times, and how the flavors and structure evolve over time.
- What Red Wines Can Age?
- Does Merlot Benefit from Aging?
- What’s the Aging Potential of Merlot Wines?
- Optimal Storage Conditions for Merlot Wine
- Recommended Aging Times for Merlot Wines
- How Does Merlot Wine Age Over Time?
- Building a Collection of Merlot Wines for Aging
- Best Merlot Wines for Aging
- Merlot Wine Producers for Everyday Drinking
- Final Thoughts – Merlot Wine Aging Guide and Tips
Additionally, check out quick tips to build a collection of Merlot wines for aging, as well as examples of age-worthy Merlot producers and producers who make Merlot wines for everyday drinking.
What Red Wines Can Age?
Not all red wines are made to age. Tannin, acid, alcohol, and fruit intensity all act in concert, influencing how long your bottle will last.
- Tannins: High levels of tannins in red wines provide structure and act as a natural preservative, allowing them to age longer. Tannins help the wine develop complexity and undergo chemical changes over time, resulting in a smoother, more harmonious profile.
- Acid: A higher level of acidity in red wines can also contribute to their aging potential. Like tannin, acid acts as a natural preservative, helping to maintain the wine’s freshness and balance as it evolves.
- Alcohol: Wines with higher alcohol content generally have better aging potential. Alcohol acts as a preservative, too.
- Fruit Intensity: Red wines with intense fruit flavors, such as ripe berries, plums, or cherries, often have a good aging potential. These primary fruit flavors evolve and transform into more complex tertiary aromas during the aging process, like dried fruits, leather, tobacco, and potpourri, adding layers of depth and character to your red wine.
Helpful Tip: Dive into the murky world of the wine term “vintage”. How old does a wine need to be before it’s considered “vintage”?
Does Merlot Benefit from Aging?
Most inexpensive Merlot wines shouldn’t be aged. Take them home and enjoy. Age-worthy Merlots can cellar for over a decade, but you’ll need to seek out and pay for these higher-quality Merlot wines.
Helpful Tip: If you’re buying a standard bottle of Merlot from your local grocery store. Don’t age it.
What’s the Aging Potential of Merlot Wines?
How long Merlot can age depends on the quality of the grapes, winemaking techniques, and region of production.
- Inexpensive Merlot: Drink immediately
- Mid-priced Merlot: 3-5 years
- Premium Merlot: 5-7 years
- Iconic Merlot: 10-20+ years
Merlot wines typically have a medium to high tannin level, moderate acidity, and lush fruit flavors.
Helpful Tip: Love Merlot? Check out this Merlot and Cheese pairing guide.
In general, the best Merlot wines for aging will possess a good balance of acid, tannins, and concentration of flavors that can develop complexity and evolve over time.
Optimal Storage Conditions for Merlot Wine
You can extend the life of your Merlot wine by storing it properly.
Here are the optimal storage conditions for Merlot wine:
- Temperature: Ideally, store Merlot wines between 55°F (13°C) and 60°F (15°C) to maintain their quality. Avoid temperature fluctuations or extreme heat, as they can accelerate the aging process and potentially damage the wine.
- Humidity: Maintain a humidity level of around 70% to prevent the corks from drying out. Dry corks can lead to premature oxidation.
- Light: Protect the wines from direct sunlight or strong artificial light, as they can degrade the wine’s flavors and cause premature aging.
- Vibration: Minimize vibrations, as they can disturb the sediment and affect the wine’s aging process.
Pro Tip: Never store wine bottles with corks long-term in your refrigerator. It will dry out the corks, allowing oxygen to get into the bottle.
Recommended Aging Times for Merlot Wines
How long can Merlot wine age? The aging potential of Merlot wines varies depending on the producer, vintage, and style of the wine. This is hard to figure out if you’re just an average, everyday wine drinker.
While I don’t generally recommend basing aging potential on price (because it really comes down to the grapes and winemaking), here are very general guidelines:
- Don’t age inexpensive Merlots (under $10 USD). Bring them home and enjoy within a year.
- Most Merlot wines are intended for consumption within the first 3 to 5 years after release ($10-$20 USD)
- Premium Merlot wines may be able to age for 5-7 years ($20+ USD)
However, some exceptional examples can age gracefully for 10 to 15 years or even longer.
It’s important to note that most Merlot wines aren’t suitable for long-term aging because Merlot isn’t a naturally high-acid, high-tannin grape, so it’s crucial to do research on specific producers and vintages if you want to cellar your bottles.
How Does Merlot Wine Age Over Time?
Like all wines, as Merlot wines age, their flavors and structure can undergo several transformations.
Helpful Tip: Go check out this post that covers the basics of Merlot.
Merlot Wine Flavor Profile with Aging Potential
Initially, young Merlot wines tend to exhibit vibrant fruit flavors such as ripe plums, cherries, and berries, accompanied by floral and herbal notes, maybe even a little vanilla and warm spice from oak during the winemaking process.
With aging, Merlot’s fruit flavors can mellow and develop into more complex aromas of dried fruits, leather, tobacco, earthiness, and spice.
Helpful Tip: Fruit flavors fade over time. If your young Merlot didn’t have intense fruit flavors that exploded in your mouth at first sip, it won’t last in the cellar. Drink up, instead!
Merlot Wine Structure Profile with Aging Potential
The tannins in your Merlot wine will soften over the years, leading to a smoother mouthfeel and a more integrated overall structure. Acid levels will also fall, making the fruit seem more rounded in your mouth.
Helpful Tip: One of the challenges with aging Merlot is that it’s already a pretty smooth red wine with mellow tannins. If your young Merlot wine doesn’t have the higher acid or tannin structure, then it won’t be able to age well and will lose its structure and become flabby and uninspired in your glass.
Helpful Tip: If you open a bottle of aged Merlot and taste more alcohol than fruit, it’s time to drink up. Your wine has passed its peak.
Building a Collection of Merlot Wines for Aging
When building a collection of Merlot wines for aging, consider the following tips:
- Research: Look for producers known for producing age-worthy Merlot wines. Focus on regions like Bordeaux (especially the Right Bank, which is known for its Merlot-dominant wines), Napa Valley, Tuscany (Italy), and some regions in Chile and Argentina.
- Vintages: Investigate the quality of specific vintages to identify exceptional years. Wine critics, vintage charts, and expert opinions can provide valuable insights.
- Producers: Look for wines from reputable producers who consistently craft high-quality Merlot wines suitable for aging. You want to find producers with a track record of producing wines that demonstrate complexity, structure, and balance.
Helpful Tip: Check out this post that explains how to use a wine vintage chart. It’s actually pretty simple once you know what you’re looking at.
Best Merlot Wines for Aging
With a little work, you can source wines for cellaring and collecting. Here are a few iconic, age-worthy Merlot producers and recommendations (all external links):
- Château Pétrus (Pomerol, Bordeaux, France)
- Château Le Pin (Pomerol, Bordeaux, France)
- Dominus Estate (Napa Valley, California, USA)
- Duckhorn Vineyards (Napa Valley, California, USA)
- Tenuta dell’Ornellaia (Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy)
These are a few of the best Merlot wines for aging but definitely consult with wine professionals or trusted sources for recommendations based on your specific preferences and budget.
These are $$$$ wines.
Merlot Wine Producers for Everyday Drinking
Of course, while you’re building your wine cellar of ageable Merlots, you’ll probably still want something to drink.
If you’re looking for Merlot wines for everyday drinking, consider these producers:
- Columbia Crest (Columbia Valley, Washington, USA)
- Charles Smith Wines (Washington, USA)
- Santa Carolina (Rapel Valley, Chile)
- Concha y Toro (Maipo Valley, Chile)
- Falesco (Umbria/Lazio, Italy)
Of course, there are so many other producers that offer excellent Merlot wines both for aging and everyday drinking.
Discover: Merlot vs Pinot Grigio
Final Thoughts – Merlot Wine Aging Guide and Tips
The majority of Merlot wines aren’t made for lengthy cellaring. As a grape, Merlot doesn’t have pronounced (high-level) structural components like acid and tannin that act as natural preservatives.
- Plan to drink inexpensive Merlots when you buy them.
- Premium Merlot wines may be able to age 5-7 years.
- Exceptional Merlot wines can age for a decade or longer.
Remember, if you start to taste more alcohol than fruit in your aged Merlot, it’s time to drink up!
Consult with vintage guides and collection experts to help you find collectible Merlot wines that can withstand cellaring.
Maintaining your Merlot wines at optimal temperature and humidity levels will help extend the life of your wine (this is true for all of your wines, not just Merlot).
Thirsty for More?
Love Merlot as much as me? Check out these other wines that are similar (but distinctive and delicious) to Merlot.
Check out this post that gives you a good idea of how much you should be spending on your next bottle of Merlot wine.
Check out this list of foods that work well with Merlot and figure out how the different Merlot wine styles pair up.