Merlot Red 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 Bordeaux wine regions of Graves and Médoc. Of these Left Bank regions, the commune of St-Estephe uses the highest percentage of Merlot in the blends. 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. In Pomerol, where Merlot usually accounts for around 80% of the blend, the iron-clay soils of the region give Merlot more of a tannic backbone than what is found in other Bordeaux regions. It was in Pomerol that the garagistes movement began with small-scale production of highly sought after Merlot-based wines. In the sandy, clay-limestone-based soils of Saint-Émilion, Merlot accounts for around 60% of the blend and is usually blended with Cabernet Franc. In limestone, Merlot tends to develop more perfume notes while in sandy soils the wines are generally softer than Merlot grown in clay dominant soils.
Merlot Red Wine
As a varietal wine, Merlot can make soft, velvety wines with plum flavors. While Merlot wines tend to mature faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, some examples can continue to develop in the bottle for decades. There are three main styles of Merlot — 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. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, ollalieberry and plum. Vegetable and earthy notes include black and green olives, cola nut, bell pepper, fennel, humus, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb and tobacco. Floral and herbal notes commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea, eucalyptus, laurel, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage, sarsaparilla and thyme. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.
Merlot Red Wine
In the early history of California wine, Merlot was used primarily as a 100% varietal wine until winemaker Warren Winiarski encouraged taking the grape back to its blending roots with Bordeaux style blends. Following the “Merlot wine craze” of the 1990s sparked by 60 Minutes French Paradox report, sales of Merlot spiked with the grape hitting its peak plantings of over 20,640 hectares (51,000 acres) in 2004. The 2004 movie Sideways has been credited with declining Merlot sales that followed after its release (which subsequently saw a spike of interest in Pinot noir). By 2010, plantings of California Merlot had dropped slightly to 18,924 hectares (46,760 acres).
Merlot Red Wine
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the world’s most planted grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at 260,000 hectares (640,000 acres) globally, with an increasing trend. This puts Merlot just behind Cabernet Sauvignon’s 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres).
Merlot Red Wine
Merlot Get cozy and get pouring. Our Merlot wine is the wine for long weekends and lengthy chats. Fresh and smooth with black cherry flavors and hints of smoke and spice, this wine with moderate tannins is your easygoing, low-maintenance friend for life. Perfect with tomato-based pastas, chicken, beef, lamb, and pizza. Buy Sutter Home Merlot Flavor Profile View Merlot awards
Merlot Red Wine
In Chile, Merlot thrives in the Apalta region of Colchagua Province. It is also grown in significant quantities in Curicó, Casablanca and the Maipo Valley. Until the early 1990s, the Chilean wine industry mistakenly sold a large quantity of wine made from the Carménère grape as Merlot. Following the discovery that many Chilean vineyards thought to be planted with Sauvignon blanc was actually Sauvignonasse, the owners of the Chilean winery Domaine Paul Bruno (who previously worked with Château Margaux and Château Cos d’Estournel) invited ampelographers to comb through their vineyards to make sure that their wines were properly identified. Genetic studies discovered that much of what had been grown as Merlot was actually Carménère, an old French variety that had gone largely extinct in France due to its poor resistance to phylloxera. While the vines, leaves and grapes look very similar, both grapes produce wines with distinct characteristics — Carménère being more strongly flavored with green pepper notes and Merlot having softer fruit with chocolate notes.
In the 1980s, Merlot helped put the Washington wine industry on the world’s wine map. Prior to this period there was a general perception that the climate of Washington State was too cold to produce red wine varietals. Merlots from Leonetti Cellar, Andrew Will, Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle demonstrated that areas of the Eastern Washington were warm enough for red wine production. Today it is the second most widely grown red wine grape in the state (after Cabernet Sauvignon), following many years of being the most widely planted variety, and accounts for nearly one fifth of the state’s entire production. In 2011, there were 3,334 hectares (8,240 acres) of Washington Merlot in cultivation.
In South Africa, plantings of Merlot have focused on cooler sites within the Paarl and Stellenbosch regions. Here the grape is the third most widely planted red grape variety, accounting for nearly 15% of all red wine grape plantings, with 6,614 hectares (16,340 acres) of Merlot in cultivation in 2008. The majority of these plantings are found in the Stellenbosch region with 2,105 hectares (5,200 acres) and Paarl with 1,289 hectares (3,190 acres). According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, South African Merlot tend to be made as a varietal in a “chocolately, glossy California style”.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tends to be two main styles. The “International style” favored by many New World wine regions tends to emphasize late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and produce inky, purple colored wines that are full in body with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit. While this international style is practiced by many Bordeaux wine producers, the traditional “Bordeaux style” of Merlot involves harvesting Merlot earlier to maintain acidity and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavors (raspberries, strawberries) and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.
Over the years, Merlot has spawned a color mutation that is used commercially, a pink-skinned variety known as Merlot gris. However, unlike the relationship between Grenache noir and Grenache blanc or Pinot noir and Pinot blanc, the variety known as Merlot blanc is not a color mutation but rather an offspring variety of Merlot crossing with Folle blanche.
It was first recorded in Italy around Venice under the synonym Bordò in 1855. The grape was introduced to the Swiss, from Bordeaux, sometime in the 19th century and was recorded in the Swiss canton of Ticino between 1905 and 1910. In the 1990s, Merlot saw an upswing of popularity in the United States. Red wine consumption, in general, increased in the US following the airing of the 60 Minutes report on the French Paradox and the potential health benefits of wine and, possibly, the chemical resveratrol. The popularity of Merlot stemmed in part from the relative ease in pronouncing the name of the wine as well as its softer, fruity profile that made it more approachable to some wine drinkers.
In food and wine pairings, the diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options. Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet Sauvignon would pair well with, such as grilled and charred meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions like Washington State and Northeastern Italy) share many of the same food-pairing affinities with Pinot noir and go well with dishes like salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens like chard and radicchio. 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. Merlot tends not to go well with strong and blue-veined cheeses that can overwhelm the fruit flavors of the wine. The capsaicins of spicy foods can accentuate the perception of alcohol in Merlot and make it taste more tannic and bitter.
In Uruguay, Merlot is often blended with Tannat and is the 2nd most widely planted red grape variety, representing around 10% of total vineyard plantings. More widely planted than Cabernet Sauvignon, there were 853 hectares (2,110 acres) of the grape in cultivation in 2009. Brazil is home to 1,089 hectares (2,690 acres) of Merlot (as of 2007) with most of them in the Rio Grande do Sul region that is across the border with Uruguay. Other South American wine regions growing Merlot include Bolivia with 30 hectares (74 acres) as of 2012 and Peru.