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MERLOT Grape (English)

MERLOT Regions

It is the predominant variety in most wines from Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, the area in which the variety originated. Merlot is now widely planted in wine regions across the world and, in terms of the volumes of wine produced internationally, it is rivaled only by its Bordeaux companion, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Its characteristically reliable ripening is a main factor behind its increased presence over recent decades in the Médoc and Entre-Deux-Mers areas of Bordeaux. Here it has mostly replaced white grape varieties.

MERLOT FLAVORS

The precise flavors that Merlot imparts to a wine are not easily defined. Plum and black cherry are among the most common fruit-based descriptors used, though Merlot is often used for producing wines of a particular texture, rather than a particular taste.

Smooth, rounded and "easy drinking" are common descriptions of Merlot wines. The main reason for this is that Merlot grapes are relatively large in relation to their pips and the thickness of the skins, in which tannins are found. For this reason, the variety is often used to soften wines made from more tannic varieties.

MERLOT Viticulture

The variety has loose bunches of large berries. It has a somewhat lighter color than Cabernet Sauvignon; still dark blue but less blue-black. Merlot skins are thinner than those of its counterpart and there are less tannins by volume. Merlot grapes tend to have a higher sugar content and lower malic acid.

Merlot usually ripens around two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, and so can cope more easily in cooler regions. Not all regions of the world that grow Merlot in significant quantities have planted a comparable amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (and vice versa).

When to pick Merlot is an ongoing source of debate. The regime at Petrus is to pick relatively early to safeguard acidity, while famous consultant Michel Rolland has been a proponent of extra fruit body brought by a touch of overripeness. More objectively, the variety can easily overripen within a few days of reaching its optimum.

It tends to bud early in the season, which can leave it vulnerable to frost. Its thinner skin also makes it more prone to botrytis. In addition, bad weather during flowering can lead to coulure – the failure of grapes to develop after flowering.

The variety does best in cool soil, and ferrous clay in particular. Water stress in well-drained soil is important for quality. Many growers advocate quite severe pruning to just a few buds, and yield reductions.

Best MERLOT Food Pairings

The lush texture and plummy flavors of Merlot mean that, in very general terms it is a flexible food partner. Of course, there are a wide variety of styles to consider.

Bright, fruity uncomplicated (less expensive) versions, such as a generic California Merlot, can be a good bet with spicy dishes, due to their overt fruitness and relatively soft tannins. This also makes them a useful option for barbecue – the wine will seem less astringent when coping with chargrilled meat and powerful sauces.

As for all grape varieties, the nature of the sauce defines which pasta dish suits Merlot best. A very meaty ragu might be fine, but a more acidic tomato-based sauce may call for a typically crisper red wine.

More structured versions, such as a Pomerol Wine, might suit more classic savory dishes. This might include roasted vegetables and meats, though not subject a pricey bottle to too much cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.

COLOR OF THE MERLOT WINE: vinified in purity, Merlot wine gives life to wines with a good alcohol content, an intense and impenetrable ruby ​​red color that tends to garnet with aging.

AROMAS OF MERLOT: red and black berries stand out on the nose. Currant, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, plum blend in perfect harmony with the typical slightly herbaceous, mentholated and earthy notes of Merlot, humus and undergrowth that evolve over time into hints of Roasting, cocoa, pepper and leather.

TASTE OF MERLOT: on the palate the Merlot wine is soft, juicy and enveloping, has a good structure, a balanced acidity and a defined tannin but at the same time often velvety and round, made even softer with aging.

Color of berry skin

Black

Wine description

Medium tannins --Cool climate: Strawberry, red berry, plum, cedar, tobacco; Medium climate: Blackberry, black plum, black cherry; Hot climate: Fruitcake, chocolate

Food pairing

Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet Sauvignon would pair well with such as grilled and charred meats. Light bodied Merlots can go well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in a protein-rich food such as bacon or prosciutto. 

Origin

France

Notable regions

Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Chilean Central Valley, Australia

Notable wine(s)

Saint Emilion, Pomerol

MERLOT is a dark purple (near black) grape varietal that yields a medium-bodied, full-flavored red wine. 

The most common words used when describing Merlot's flavor notes are plum, currant, berries and blackberries.  MERLOT is one of the primary grapes used in classic Bordeaux wine, along with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

Broadly speaking, there are two main styles to Merlot:

  • So-called "International" style":  late harvesting of fully ripe grapes, produces full-body wines with high alcohol, often with plum and blackberry notes
  • Bordeaux or "Traditional" style:  Mid-season harvesting producing medium-body wines that have fresh, red fruit flavors such as strawberries and raspberries.

Dishes that go particularly well with MERLOT are:

  • Beef, particularly grilled or roast beef and filet mignon
  • Blue cheese, Cheddar cheese, Gorgonzola
  • Chicken, particularly grilled or roast chicken
  • Berries and Fruit, particularly red fruit sauces
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Lamb
  • Pork, especially roast pork and pork loin
  • Steak, especially grilled steak
  • Tarragon
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauces
  • Pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces
  • Turkey
  • Veal, veal chops
  • Braised dishes, such as braised lamb, braised pork, or braised chicken

The name MERLOT comes from "Merle", which is the French name for blackbird (a reference to the grape's dark, near-black color.)

MERLOT ripens in mid-season, and needs to be picked before the acidity declines.  It thrives in warm, but not-too-warm climates, like the Napa Valley and its region-of-origin, the Bordeaux region of France.

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