Merlot

a star on its own as one of the most famous wine in the world

Merlot is a French word that means “little blackbird”. Some of the most common misconceptions about Merlot wine come from the notion that it is a heavy, fat wine. This is a myth that, to be fair, has been perpetuated by large wineries that produce wines for large grocery stores.

Is Merlot sweet or dry?

People often ask if merlot is a sweet wine or a dry wine. Many people don’t know the answer to this question, but the answer is simple. A merlot is dry, not sweet.

Origins

Merlot originated in France and Bordeaux is the land that gave the world this popular wine. It can be found throughout the world, however, the highest quality dry wines are produced in Bordeaux, France.

It’s the most widely planted grape in France with some estimates suggesting that France is home to about 2/3 of the world’s Merlot plantings.

Photo credit: Philippe Fifties

Its classic home is Bordeaux. Wines from this region have softer, red fruit characters. Merlot is a dry, dark red wine, and has a very fruity taste. It is a pretty medium-oriented grape with acidity and tannin staying right in that ballpark and alcohol does as well. However, depending on how ripe the grapes got before harvest the level of alcohol can creep up too high in some examples. Merlot wine production is not an easy process, but people tend to enjoy the end result that it has on our taste buds. The grapes are harvested in the Fall because they need to be ripened by the time Autumn starts. Merlot is a type of grape that has uneven ripening, so it has a great effect on the wine’s flavor.

In Spain, the most important Merlot plantings are located in the relatively temperate area of Catalonia. Besides Italy is the other important wine producer in the world where this red grape varietal is widely planted.

Merlot in California

In the last years, this grape variety became very popular in Italy, Chile, and also in the United States. Many US plantings are in California Napa Sonoma that ranked among the world’s best Merlots. In Washington State and in California the high-quality Merlot is usually full-bodied and made in Bordeaux style. Actually, this grape did a lot to help put Washington on the world wine map.

When people think of California wine, they often think about fine Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, there are other red wines in the state, among them the robust Merlot. This particular variety is one of the earliest grapes grown in California. The first vineyards were planted and cultivated by European immigrants in the 17th century. Today, it is making a comeback with vineyards in Sonoma County and Mendocino County using grapes from the Bordeaux region of France to make Merlot. The grape Merlot provides a mane of nutrients that a person needs in order to stay healthy. It also offers protection against different forms of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In California, many wineries are choosing to turn to Merlot (as well as cabernet sauvignon) for their standard varietal.

Blending

Merlot is smooth, easy-drinking in style. It makes this grape almost perfect for blending. Usually, it is combined with Cabernet Sauvignon. Both grapes can benefit from each other. The best Cabernet-Merlot blends come from Bordeaux and Hawke’s Bay area, New Zealand.

Merlot and its half-sibling Cabernet Sauvignon are closely related and have a lot in common terms of their flavor and aroma profiles. They make great compliments for each other. And blending wines made from the two grapes produce an extraordinarily rich and complex wine. An important role that it plays and blends like these is to soften the intensity of Cab Sav and give it a smoother, more accessible presentation while retaining its power and depth of flavor. Merlot is also the most popular red wine grape in the United States, where it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, or Malbec.

Climate

Most wines are affected by the climate in which they are produced. The weather has a huge impact on the flavor and quality of wine grapes, especially Merlot. For Merlot to reach its full potential, the grape needs to be grown in a climate that has a cool winter, a growing season. In general, these grapes are grown in damp climates. The ideal Merlot-growing climate is one in which the vineyards get a lot of rain, the temperature is always mild, and the grapes get the right amount of exposure to the sun. Each of these elements can be found in different areas around the globe, which is why many wine lovers prefer Merlot from different regions of the world. Depending on how it’s produced, merlot can be light and fruity, or full-bodied and earthy.

Style & flavors

Obviously, it’s a dark-colored, tannic red wine grape variety. These wines are known for their deep and complex flavors. In fact, the Merlot grape is commonly described as being more “fruity” than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which tend to have a more “earthy” taste. For this reason, Merlot is a popular selection for big reds like Bordeaux blends and California Cabernet Sauvignon. It is known for its flavors of black cherry, plums, and chocolate. Some people also describe it as having a “peppery” flavor. It also has herbal tones, like licorice and peppermint. Definitely, it is a great wine to try on a Friday night with friends.

Cooler climate Merlot from regions such as Bordeaux, Northern Italy, and Chile is more medium-bodied with tobacco, bay leaf, mint, licorice, anise, bitter chocolate notes. Merlot is often said to have notes of blueberry, blackberry, plum, and cherry.

Warmer climate Merlot from regions like Australia, Napa Valley, and Argentina is medium-plus bodied with vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate note. Merlot is often said to have notes of blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry.

Old World vs. New World style

Stylistically there are two broad approaches to making Merlot: an ‘old world’ style, most closely associated with Bordeaux, and a ‘new world’ style. In Bordeaux, the tendency has been to pick Merlot early to foreground its bright red fruit flavors and aromas like raspberry and cherry. However, this approach also left green and herbaceous notes in the wine like bell pepper, grass, and bay leaf. The new-world approach emphasizes letting the grapes get very ripe and brought out deep plum and dark fruit notes along with sweet herbal flavors and aromas like fennel and sarsaparilla as well as chocolate.

Food pairing

When you’re enjoying a nice glass of red wine, your first thought may not be, “What should I eat with this?” But when you consider the wide range of wine flavors and foods, it makes more sense to pair wine with food. It’s best to avoid highly acidic or salty foods, as they can thwart your wine experience—and your meal. The same goes for foods with powerful flavors

A Merlot has a lot of body to it, along with soft tannins and a smooth finish. While they usually pair best with foods that are also red in color, as are most merlots, there are many other options. It is the perfect choice for meals that have a fair amount of spice in them, or when you want to create a rich, fruity dish with a lot of flavors. If you are thinking of cooking with Merlot, you should think about pairing this wine with dishes that have a lot of spices in them. Pairs well with red meat dishes.

The notes of cherry in Merlot are the perfect match for the flavor of a medium-rare steak. If you don’t like red meat, that’s okay. Merlot can also pair well with many different fish dishes. Both roast beef and pastas taste great with a Merlot, as do vegetables and barbecued meat as well as mushroom dishes. The wine’s sweet flavor is a wonderful contrast to the stronger flavors of many dishes, and its smooth texture helps to enhance the taste of the food.

White Merlot? Are you kidding?

But it exists and is produced in the same way as white Zinfandel. Once the grapes have been crushed and, after brief contact with the skins, the pink juice is poured off the must, fermentation takes place. This is the process in brief.

It was not so long ago, in the 1990s, that we first encountered white Merlot commercially. The best-known region where it is produced is in Switzerland (Ticino).

Synonyms of Merlot

Though there are many synonyms to Merlot across the globe, they all refer to the same wine: Bégney, Bidal, Bidalhe, Bigney or Bigney rouge, Bini, Bini Ruzh, Bioney, Bordeleza belcha, Crabutet, Crabutet noir, Crabutet noir merlau, Hebigney, Higney and Higney rouge, Langon, Lecchumskij, Médoc noir, Merlau, Merlaut, Merlaut noir, Merle, Merle Petite, Merleau, Merlô, Merlot noir/black/blauer/crni/nero, Merlott, Merlou, Odzalesi, Odzhaleshi, Odzhaleshi Legkhumskii, Petit Merle, Picard, Pikard, Plan medre, Planet Medok, Plant (du) Médoc, Saint-Macaire, Same de la Canan, Same dou Flaube, Sème de la Canau, Sème Dou Flube, Semilhon rouge, Semilhoum, Semilhoun or Sémillon rouge, Sud des Graves, Vidal, Vini Ticinesi, Vitrai and Vitraille.

Final thoughts

Every day people are discovering the intensity and power of this fantastic wine. Its popularity has grown significantly over the past decade, and with it has come a number of happy winemakers. You don’t need a fat wallet to enjoy this wine with friends, which is another big reason why Merlot is so popular. You don’t need to break the bank in order to have a good time with your friends. It’s also known for its versatility. You can use it for everything from wine coolers to cooking, and it goes well with all kinds of dishes. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot and see for yourself!