Merlot became a brand name wine in the 1980s because of its smooth, rich, easy-drinking flavors and texture. It has less acidity and astringency (that furry mouth feeling from tannins) than many other grapes and a medium-body that appeals to many palates. It's since been somewhat vilified, like Chardonnay, for being boring: the soft jazz of the wine world. (Remember Miles' scorn for Merlot in the movie Sideways?) However, it is also the leading grape in some of the world's most famous wines such as Château Petrus, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Palmer.
Merlot is the third most widely planted grape in France (after Carignan and Grenache) and first in the Bordeaux region, especially in St. Emilion and Pomerol, where it usually leads in the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Other regions notable for Merlot include southern France (Languedoc), north east Italy (Veneto), eastern Europe, California, Washington State, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand. In Chile, many vines long thought to be Merlot were later identified as Carmenère, a Bordeaux variety.
The two grapes are similar, though, in aroma profile, but Carmenère tends to have more structure. Merlot ripens about a week earlier than both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and therefore is generally richer, riper and rounder as a grape in the blend. It also is a safer bet for vintners because they can harvest Merlot earlier before fall rains or early frosts. Merlot likes dry, rocky soils but is thin-skinned and can be prone to rot or early spring frosts since it also flowers early. It must be pruned regularly as it's a vigorous vine that if over-cropped, produces wines that taste watery, weedy or grassy.
My reviews of these Merlot red wines are updated weekly. These Merlot red wines offer great taste at a good price. You'll find a definition of Merlot wine at the bottom of this page as well as food pairings for Merlot in my wine matcher. This is just a small set of my reviews, but you can get all of them when you join my wine community.
Merlot tends to be more herbaceous in aroma than Cabernet Sauvignon. Other signature notes include plums, currants, black cherries, blackberries, vanilla, coconuts, violets, roses, cloves, bay leaves, green peppercorns, mushrooms, coffee, mocha, cedar, cigar box, bell pepper and green olive. Its color ranges from medium dark red to deep blue.
Merlot, with its juicy dark fruit flavors, pairs well with many meat dishes such as beef, cheese, poultry, borsch (beet soup), quesadillas, Tandoori-flavored dishes, game, lamb, pasta, pork, veal, lentil dishes and dark chocolate.
© 2014 by Natalie MacLean. All rights reserved.