We don’t all have an open fire, a bear skin rug and a semi-clad Don Draper to warm us as the weather turns cool this winter. But we can certainly all have a bottle of Merlot at the ready.

Merlot is a wine that offers warmth and comfort in the same way that a steamed chocolate pudding or a bowl of boeuf bourguigon provide so much more than just a good meal – they double as a warm blanket to wrap yourself in when the wind is howling and the rain is beating down outside.

The coziness a good glass of Merlot offers comes largely from its luscious drinkability and the intense delight that it’s rich, dark fruit, caramel and chocolate flavours imbue. It’s also not weighed down by excess complexity or deep, considered thought. This is a wine you can just sink into.

But what it may lack in complexity it more than makes up for in raw, unadulterated pleasure.  It’s smooth, easy drinking, low in tannins and high in forward dark fruit flavours that race up to meet you with each sip.

Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, Merlot is like the hippest of French fashions. For a long time Merlot was in, then it was out. Now it’s in again. In fact, some reports have it second only to Shiraz as most popular red wine variety in production around the world.

hugh jackman
This is Hugh Jackman. NOT Merlot.

We won’t say it’s like a smooth shaven, hunky Hollywood leading man, because that would be completely un-PC. But let’s just say that the good looks that make it so popular are sometimes the reason it’s not taken seriously enough by wine boffins. Merlot is smooth, seductive, rich and velvety, but can lack structure; and the deliciousness is sometimes all up-front, leaving nothing on the palate for later.

It is precisely because of this that Merlot is often blended with other fuller bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot gives the wine a handsome exterior while the Cab provides the back bone.

But a straight Merlot can be an excellent wine in its own right, and is a good match for a wide variety of foods due to its low tannins, low acidity and medium body which place it in the middle of the red wine spectrum. It’s particularly good with medium bodied and lightly spiced foods.

You can serve it as an elegant accompaniment to confit of duck or a pumpkin tagine, but Merlot is arguably at its most perfect when the vibe is relaxed, comforting and warm. Like sharing a bottle with friends on a cold and wintery Friday night, over a plate piled high with hot enchiladas. Hugh Jackman movie optional.

Right now we’re loving these three cracking Merlots at Friday-night prices:

Katnook Estate Founders Block Merlot 2010 $20.00 www.katnookestate.com.au

It doesn’t hold back on the dark, ripe fruit, so be ready for a mouthful of forest berries from the very first sip. There’s a lovely, subtle sweetness from all that fruit which makes it so enjoyable and approachable. There’s also a little bit of warm oak and a velvety-ness that is comforting and warming. Like throwing a big, flowy scarf around your neck.

Giesen Gisborne Merlot 750mLGiesen Gisborne Merlot 2010 $20.00 www.giesen.co.nz

Yep, it’s from across the ditch! And while Giesen are better known for their Sav Blanc, this NZ Merlot definitely deserves some time in the limelight. Spicy, full of blackcurrant goodness and there’s even a richness and smokiness that’s almost coffee like. Leave it in the glass for a few minutes before slurping it down and it will open up even more.

Bendooley Ex Libris 2011 $25.00 www.bendooleyestate.com.au

It’s from Berrima in the NSW Southern Highlands. And from the label to the contents of the bottle it positively oozes old money and sophisticated glamour in a polo-playing, country house kind of way. And we like it like that. With alluring, bright red colour, and plenty of bright red fruit (think cranberries and damsen plums) it’s a lighter, brighter option, thanks in part to the cool climate and to the addition of some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tried any of the Merlots listed here? Leave your own review below!