Merlot is one of my all-time favorite wines, which is a good thing because I make Merlot every year and have a lot to drink!
The best dishes to pair with Merlot don’t have to be difficult. Food pairings that have earthy flavors and rich fat will compliment Merlot’s plush, plummy profile. Mushroom, roasted meat, and even tomato-based dishes work well with Merlot.
Here are a few delicious Merlot pairing ideas to get you started.
What Does Merlot Taste Like?
Like all wines, the climate will influence the style of your Merlot wine. Generally speaking, there are 2 distinctive Merlot wine styles to watch out for:
- Cool Climate Merlot (e.g. Bordeaux, France): These Merlot wines will have more structured tannins and crunchy black fruit, and maybe even a slightly earthy flavor.
- Warm Climate Merlot (e.g., California, Eastern Washington, Southeast Australia): These will be jammier Merlot wines, with velvety black fruit, higher alcohol, and a smoother profile.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a 30-second tasting tip on how to taste tannins. This is a great skill to develop as you jump into red wines.
Merlot Pairing Tips: Quick Style Guide
Because of Merlot’s softer tannin profile, rich dark fruit, and medium body, you’ll find that it pairs well with a range of dishes, making it a wonderful go-to wine for everyday drinking.
Cooler climate Merlots will pair well with earthy flavors, and even higher-acid dishes that can be problematic, like tomato sauce. Think everything from spaghetti to risottos, to herbal-rubbed roasted meat.
Warmer climate Merlots have higher alcohol and more body, making them a delicious choice for rich, roasted meats and even spiced sausage.
The perfect wine and food combinations with Merlot will depend on whether your Merlot is from a warmer or cooler growing region. Keep this in mind as you start to explore.
Helpful Tip: Here’s everything you need to know about Merlot wine if you’re just starting out.
Check out these Merlot pairing ideas.
Merlot Food Pairing #1: Truffle Risotto
Any dish with truffle deserves to be well-paired. Truffle risotto matches beautifully with Merlot’s plush dark plummy profile and soft tannin structure.
The earthy aroma of truffles melds effortlessly with Merlot, translating into a symphony of flavors.
Refined decadence. What more do you need?
- Pairs Best With: Stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Think Bordeaux. If you don’t want to buy a Bordeaux, look for a Merlot under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Easy Merlot Food Pairing # 2: Margherita Pizza
Pizza is always an easy Merlot food pairing.
You have the simplicity of vibrant flavors in a Margherita pizza that meld with Merlot’s fruit-forward character.
The acid from tomatoes and cream from fresh mozzarella are perfect for Merlot wine.
- Pairs Best With: Again, stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Look for Merlot wines under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Merlot Food Pairing # 3: Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
If you’re a griller, then go find yourself some Portabello mushrooms for your next Merlot food pairing.
You have an earthy, meaty essence of mushrooms, kissed by flames. Drizzle with olive oil before and after grilling to add a layer of fat and depth that will marry with your Merlot.
I love this pairing because it works with all styles of Merlot.
The umami in the mushroom, the fat from the olive oil, and the char from the fire make this a versatile Merlot wine pairing.
- Pairs Best With: Any style of Merlot
Merlot Food Pairing # 4: Oven Roasted Vegetables
Oven roasted vegetables are another delicious Merlot pairing recommendation. The natural earthiness of root vegetables, brussles sprouts, and onions work well with cooler climate Merlot.
Drizzle in olive oil and you’ll bring out a sweet side to your roasted veggies, too, making this a great dish for warmer climate, higher-alcohol, fuller-bodied Merlot wines. Yum!
- Pairs Best With: Any style of Merlot
Merlot Food Pairing # 5: Eggplant Parmesan
For a Mediterranean and vegetarian twist, try oven baked eggplant parmesan as a tasty Merlot food match.
Savory eggplant marries Merlot’s dark fruit and herbal profile. This is an unexpected comfort pairing.
- Pairs Best With: Stick to cooler climate Merlot wines that have more acid and crunchier dark fruit. Look for Merlot wines under 13% alcohol, a good clue to a cooler climate.
Merlot Food Pairing # 6: Herb-Roasted Chicken
Herb roasted chicken should be a staple in your meal rotation. This is one of the best dishes to pair with Merlot.
Roast chicken embraces the velvety charm of Merlot and an herbal rub can mirror and enhance layers of rustic charm in many Merlot wines.
Side Note: Roasted chicken with Merlot is a personal pairing favorite.
Merlot and roasted chicken remind you of the beauty found in simplicity.
- Pairs Best With: Any style of Merlot wine.
Merlot Food Pairing # 7: Grilled Ribeye Steak
When pairing Merlot with meat, you’ll want to think about the fat content. Richer, heavier meats, like a marbled ribeye steak, will hold up to heavier styles of Merlot wine.
The charred exterior of the steak provides a delectable contrast to the wine’s smoothness.
Tannin and acid will cut through fat, which helps cleanse and refresh your palate.
- Pairs Best With: Heavier styles of Merlot wine. Look for Merlot wines from Eastern Washington, California, Argentina, and Southeastern Australia. Look for Alcohol levels 13%+ as a good clue.
Merlot Food Pairing # 8: Braised Short Ribs
Braised short ribs are another winning Merlot and meat pairing idea. You have protein and fat that always work well with red wines.
Go for slow-cooked short ribs.
Deep, layers of flavors can enhance Merlot’s dark fruit profile.
Helpful Tip: If you love spicy rubs on your ribs, be careful when it comes to wine pairing! Chili spice can exacerbate the alcohol in wines, especially if they’re already higher alcohol, like a warm climate Merlot. Stick with low-heat rubs when pairing Merlot with meat.
Easy Merlot Food Pairing # 9: Pasta Bolognese
You may think ‘Chianti’ while you’re prepping your Wednesday Spaghetti, but Merlot works just as well. This is an easy Merlot food pairing idea.
The rich, meaty sauce mirrors the wine’s savory flavors.
The acid from the tomato sauce along with any aromatic herbs make this a good pairing for cooler climate Merlot wines. Merlot’s smooth tannins and bright acidity elevate every bite, creating a taste sensation that pays homage to the culinary traditions of the Old World.
- Best Paired With: Cooler climate Merlot wines with higher acidity and brighter fruit. Look for wines from northern latitudes (or extreme southern latitudes). France (and Bordeaux) is a great place to start!
Easy Merlot Food Pairing # 10: Lentil Soup
Nothing says homemade quite like a bowl of soup. Lentil soup is an easy Merlot food pairing.
The earthy flavors of tender lentils, aromatic herbs, and savory vegetables create a symphony of tastes that resonate with Merlot.
Helpful Tip: If you add bacon or sausage to your lentil soup (I always do), go for a bolder style of Merlot wine.
This is a pairing that offers warmth, comfort and a delightful balance of flavors.
- Best Paired With: Any style of Merlot wine.
Easy Merlot Food Pairing # 11: Pastrami Sandwich
Pastrami on rye is a quick and simple Merlot pairing idea. Whether you construct your own or pick up a sandwich from your favorite deli, the robust flavors of a pastrami sandwich unite with the captivating allure of Merlot.
Helpful Tip: Love Merlot? Check out this Merlot and Cheese pairing guide.
Pastrami delivers salt, smoke, fat, and a savory earthiness that works every time. This is simple pairing celebrates the pleasures found in the perfect union of flavors.
- Best Paired With: Warm climate Merlot wines. Generic “California” Merlot, Southeastern Australia, Central Valley Chile.
Final Thoughts – Best Dishes to Pair with Merlot
Let the main flavors in your meal guide your Merlot food pairings.
- Rich, savory dishes with protein and fat work well with heavier styles of Merlot wine.
- Earthy dishes with bright acidity and herbs are better pairing partners for lighter styles of Merlot wine.
The beauty of Merlot is that it embraces a spectrum of styles, making it a versatile wine for almost any occasion.
Thirsty for More?
Have a vegetarian in your life? Here’s a list of Merlot pairings just for vegetarians.
Love Merlot as much as me? Check out these other wines that are similar (but distinctive and delicious) to Merlot.
Food and wine pairing is something of an art, which is why I put together this quick food and wine pairing guide to get you started.
Check out this post that gives you a good idea of how much you should be spending on your next bottle of Merlot wine.
I love Merlot because of its versatility, but Malbecs also offer something similar. Check out this post on the difference between Merlot and Malbec wines.
Need inspiration? Check out this post for ultimate list of finger foods for wine tasting (for red and white wines).