WHAT do you turn to in times of stress? Your mum, beer, Tramadol? In my case it’s merlot, preferably from California but I'm an international equal opportunities boozer so any country will do at a push.

Merlot is one of the classic grapes of Bordeaux which has fought for dominance with its arch rival cabernet sauvignon for hundreds of years. Now, they carry on that tussle in vineyards all over the world. It’s a bit like Ali v Foreman with the occasional blend interloper in the form of shiraz, AKA Frazier.

It’s a tussle I love to follow because both grapes would be in my top two if forced to pick, but Merlot being the softer, more relaxing grape has tended to become my liquid comfort blanket. It’s actually hard to find a poor one at any price except for the cheap southern French single varietals that smell like a wet dog blanket and taste like rubber.

Yup, I've said it before and I'll say it again, you have to be a complete plonker of a winemaker to produce a bad merlot. That said, the further above a tenner you go, the richer and more velvety the plummy flavours become and, at the top end, they are often so rich, complex and smooth that they constitute a dish unto themselves.

So, there you have it, when you can't get hold of your mum, call Aunty Merlot instead.

Merlot Reserva Casa Silva, Chile

Quite a complex and full on Merlot for very little money indeed. Rich plum flavours with hints of coffee and oak on the finish. Snap it up folks!

DeBurgh.com (Midlothian) £11.49

Devils Creek Merlot, Hawkes Bay

Too many of the New Zealand reds have the green leafiness to them that spoils the flavour but this one is having none of that. Rich, generous plum and damson flavours with one of those lovely enveloping palates that will make it perfect for spicy dishes.

Majestic £9.99 per bottle or £7.99 mixed six