Another wine in the profile series is Merlot. Merlot wine is considered the oppressed Cabernet Sauvignon. How to come? Because of low-cost trade, Merlot has given the grape variety a bad reputation. But let’s set the record straight: Merlot wine is first class.

Not only is it highly regarded in the wine world, but Merlot is also wonderful paired with food. Merlot (also known as Merlau) was first mentioned in the notes of a local Bordeaux official in 1784, who labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the best in the area.

The grape was named after the local blackbird (called Merlau in the local variant of Occitan language, Merle in standard) who liked to eat the ripe grapes on the vine in an article on Médoc wine in 1824.

The Wine Profile Series: Merlot profile

  • Main regions: 600,000 acres worldwide.
  • France (280,000+ acres) Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Italy (93,000+ acres) Tuscany, Campania
  • United States (55,000+ acres) California, Washington
  • Australia (39,000 acres) South Australia
  • Chile (25,000 acres)
  • Argentina (13,000 acres)

Primary characteristics of Merlot:

  • Fruit: Black cherry, raspberry, plum
  • Other: Graphite, Cedar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Cloves, Mocha
  • Oak: Yes. Aging in oak is generally medium (8 to 12 months)
  • Tannin: Medium
  • Acidity: Medium
  • ABV: 12 to 15%

The best Merlot taste has a range of flavors, ranging from graphite, herbs and blackberries, to black cherries, plums, and cocoa, often layered with notes of clove, vanilla, and cedar when aged in oak.

Regional wines:

St. Émilion, Pomerol, Fronsac, Côtes de Bourg, Blaye

Taste of Merlot wine:

Red fruits, cool tannins, and a sweet finish define Merlot wine. But there’s more to Merlot than its smoothness. It’s actually a bit of a changeable wine, partially because of how Merlot is vinified and where it’s grown.

Cool climate Merlot is defined with a higher presence of tannins and earthy aromas such as tobacco and tar. Some cool-climate Merlot is confused with Cabernet Sauvignon. Classic examples of Merlot wine grown in cool climates are Rive Droite Bordeaux, such as Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, and the earthy Fronsac.

Warm climate, Merlot wine is fruitier, and tannins are less present. Some producers use a judicious treatment of oak for up to 24 months to give more structure to their Merlot wine. A classic example of warm-climate Merlot is California Merlot, like Paso Robles and the Napa Valley.

The taste of stem in some Merlot occurs during the ripening of the grapes and is because of the vigorous vegetation of the deciduous vines. Pruning helps but makes the fine-skinned Merlot grapes burst in the sun.

Merlot Food Pairings:

Merlot wine goes well with a wide array of foods due to its position in the middle of the variety of red wines. In general, Merlot goes well with chicken and other light meats and slightly spicy dark meats. With medium tannins and not too much acidity, Merlot goes well with many foods making it one of the best wine profile series.

Juicy Merlot wines and those from a cooler climate go well with roasted vegetables. You can even pair vegetables that are harder to match, like tomatoes. Some of the best protein to match Merlot is in the middleweight category. Think roast duck, turkey, and lean cuts of beef.

When it falls to Merlot, it’s all about the sauce. Try it with beef bourguignon.

Fun facts about merlot wine:

  1. It is the highest planted variety in France. Forget the famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties from Bordeaux and Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Merlot is presently the most grown grape variety in France.
  2. Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.
  3. It is more difficult to grow than Cabernet. Merlot is a fine-skinned grape selection that is very sensitive to its environment. Merlot grapes have an advantage over Cabernet: they ripen up to two weeks earlier. During a rainy harvest, a week can make a big difference.
  4. It is a major player in Italy. Merlot is the fifth greatest planted grape variety in Italy. Merlot is popular in IGT wines from Tuscany, commonly known as “Super Tuscans.”
  5. Because Merlot wine is so sensitive to light, Merlot-based wines tinge with orange on the edge. The orange edge is the tell-tale sign of Merlot compared to Cabernet Sauvignon.
  6. $1,870 for a bottle of Merlot?! Yes. Believe it or not, the most famous of Bordeaux Right Bank, Château Petrus, is mainly Merlot.
  7. American Oak works wonders. Some winemakers use American Oak to make their Merlot wines rural and rich like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

See more resources here

Key dates in Merlot history:

1784: Most wine historians agree that the first mentions of Merlot date from 1784.

1956: In 1956, the Merlot grape suffered a disaster that nearly wiped it off the map, having a massive impact on the wine market at the time.

1970: Merlot planting was banned in 1970 due to persistent rot problems to weed out the bad crops and start over.

1990: This popularity peaked in the 1990s, when many winemakers created Merlot to meet demand. Though its popularity has waned in recent years, it remains one of the world’s most popular wine varieties, with millions of bottles sold each year.

Date for your diary:

November 7th is International Merlot Day!

References:

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012

Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010

The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019

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About the Author: Staff Writer

Wine Profile Series: Merlot, The Wine Profile Series: Merlot