Merlot is one of the most famous vine varieties in the world. The English translation for “Merlot” is “the little blackbird.” Merlot, along with the Spanish Airen and Cabernet Sauvignon, are the top three most-planted grape varieties in the entire world.
Merlot is a black-skinned berry that is as fleshy as it is juicy, and that gives delicious red wine. Fun is always guaranteed with Merlot, no matter who is throwing the party. There are five noble grape varieties in Bordeaux, and Merlot is one of them.
Currently, Merlot is grown on virtually all continents where there are vineyards. Winemakers often like to blend Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon to balance out Cabernet’s mouth-drying tannins.
Merlot’s spice notes and fleshy fruit character offer the perfect balance. But at the same time, there is a surge of 100% bottlings of Merlot as more and more people find it utterly delicious.
How Does Merlot Taste?
Merlot wines come in various styles, all conditioned by the terroir, as well as the production methods. Typically, Merlot wine is medium to completely bodied, reminiscent of dark berry fruits, fleshy and round. Merlot is grown in cooler climates and can reveal complex spices sometimes native to that region. Almost by default, standalone Merlot and Merlot blends are aged in oak.
Merlot in France
It sounds unreal, but there is Merlot planted in the Bordeaux region than the cult Cabernet Sauvignon variety. However, there is perfect reasoning behind that – the cooler climate. The cooler climate sits well with the Merlot, which doesn’t need much sun or high temperatures to ripen. That’s not the case with the Cabernet Sauvignon that needs a warmer climate to reach full ripeness.
Merlot has a serious presence in both the Languedoc-Roussillon region and the Left Bank of the Bordeaux. However, it is the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where Merlot is the undisputed champion. The 100% varietal bottlings and blends made by wine producers in Pomerol and Saint- Emilion stand in high regard with wine collectors from all over the world. Wines produced there tend to assert certain elegance and power during their youth, notes of black-fruit flavor, and subtle touches of tobacco spice or cedar. Most times that comes from the aging in the oak.
Merlot is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. Merlot from Bordeaux can age for a decade or longer during which it can develop a complex spice and earth notes. Of course, the Merlot needs to be stored the entire time properly and not bothered during that time.
Merlot in Italy
Most of Merlot plantings are in the northern parts of Italy, where it is mainly used for blending. But in Tuscany, Merlot plays on the big stage. In most cases, local producers go for the proven Bordeaux blends that bring out a robust style of wine. Some local producers tend to blend it with the local Sangiovese variety. But if you want the best from the Italian Merlot, always ask for the “Toscano IGT.”
Merlot in the USA
Merlot’s native country is France, but it is the United States where Merlot wine is cherished most. Nowadays, the Napa Valley in Northern California produces some of the best single- varietal Merlots in the world. These are strong Merlot wines featuring robust and powerful notes of berry fruit and baking spices.
Aside from Napa Valley, the Central Coast is another hotbed for this variety, with Paso Robles standing out. Southern Calfornia is also home to many Merlot plantations, with Santa Barbara Country being the center of it.
Another US state where the Merlot variety has a strong presence is Washington. Further on the east, there is a small number of winemakers in Long Island that are attracting a lot of attention with their quality Merlot wines.
Merlot in Chile
Most Merlot plantations are in Maipo, Maule, and Colchagua. Chilean Merlot seems immersed in herbaceous notes, dark-berry fruit, and at times even feels meaty, which makes it unique and different.
The most notable Merlot wines come from the central valley in Colchagua, where there are high alluvial deposits. Those clay deposits are to blame for the unique quality that comes from the wine produced there.
Merlot in Australia
Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz may be the most planted red varieties. However, it is Merlot that also stands on the podium as the third-most planted red grape. In the past, Merlot was only planted on sites that were far from perfect. But the demand for Bordeaux blends has made winemakers rethink their strategy so that they start planting Merlot on better-suited terroir.
Nowadays, Merlot is thriving in Coonawarra, as well as in Hunter Valley, Mclaren Vale, Margaret River, Barossa Valley, and Eden Valley. Wine critics describe Merlot in France as wine with a silky elegance and sumptuous of sweet berry flavors.