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Grape Varietals

Merlot

merlot-grape

chateau-petrus

chateaux-petrus

Introduction

Originating from Bordeaux, Merlot is a darkly blue-coloured, thin skinned wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. The earliest recorded mention of Merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labelled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the area's best. The name comes from the Occitan word "merlot", which means "young blackbird"; the name was thought to have been given either because of the grape's beautiful dark-blue colour, or the blackbirds' fondness for grapes. By the 19th century it was being regularly planted in the Médoc on the "Left Bank" of the Gironde.

As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety globally, with an increasing trend. France is home to nearly two thirds of the world's total plantings and is also grown in Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, Greece, New Zealand, and South Africa among other countries.

Merlot Wines There are three main styles of Merlot Wine— a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins, a fruity wine with more tannic structure and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cool climate Merlots have notes of strawberry, red berry, plum, cedar, tobacco; medium climate ones show hints of blackberry, black plum, black cherry and hot climate ones exhibit fruitcake and chocolate characteristics. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes in Bordeaux wine. In the traditional Bordeaux blend, Merlot's role is to add body and softness. Despite accounting for 50-60% of overall plantings in Bordeaux, the grape tends to account for an average of 25% of the blends — especially in the Left Bank regions of Graves and Médoc. However, Merlot is much more prominent on the Right Bank of the Gironde in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, where it will commonly comprise the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus, is almost all Merlot.

Food Pairings

In food pairings, the diversity of Merlot Wine can lend itself to a wide array of matching options. Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with grilled and charred meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions) share many of the same food-pairing affinities with Pinot Noir like salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens like chard and radicchio. Light-bodied Merlot wine can go well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in a protein-rich food such as bacon or prosciutto. Merlot tends not to go well with strong and blue-veined cheeses that can overwhelm the fruit flavours of the wine. Spicy foods can accentuate the perception of alcohol in Merlot wine and make it taste more tannic and bitter.

Interesting Facts

  • Researchers at University of California, Davis believe that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Compared to Cabernet, Merlot grapes tend to have a higher sugar content and lower malic acid and ripen up to two weeks earlier.
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