is a red wine grape that is used as both a blending grape
and for varietal wines. The name Merlot is thought to derive
from the Old French word for young blackbird, merlot, a diminutive
of merle, the blackbird (Turdus merula), probably from the
color of the grape. Merlot-based wines usually have medium
body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. 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.
of berry skin
tannins --Cool climate: Strawberry, red berry, plum, cedar,
tobacco; Medium climate: Blackberry, black plum, black cherry;
Hot climate: Fruitcake, chocolate
Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet
Sauvignon would pair well with such as grilled and charred
meats. 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.
Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Chilean Central Valley, Australia
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of
the primary grapes in Bordeaux wine where it is the most widely
planted grape. 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
at University of California, Davis believe that Merlot is an offspring
of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. The earliest recorded
mention of Merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official
who in 1784 labeled 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" ("merle" is the French
word for several kinds of thrushes, including blackbirds); the
naming came either because of the grape's beautiful dark-blue
color, or due to blackbirds' fondness for grapes. By the 19th
century it was being regularly planted in the Medoc on the "Left
Bank" of the Gironde. After a
series of setbacks that includes a severe frost in 1956 and several
vintages in the 1960s lost to rot, French authorities in Bordeaux
banned new plantings of Merlot vines between 1970 and 1975.
It was first
recorded in Italy around Venice 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 the chemical
resveratrol. The popularity of Merlot stemmed in part from the
relative ease in pronouncing the wine as well as it softer, fruity
profile that it made more approachable to some wine drinkers.
grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries.
The color has less of a blue/black hue than Cabernet Sauvignon
grapes and with a thinner skin and fewer tannins. Also compared
to Cabernet, Merlot grapes tend to have a higher sugar content
and lower malic acid.
Merlot thrives in cold soil, particularly ferrous clay. The
vine tends to bud early which gives it some risk to cold frost
and its thin skin increases its susceptibility to rot. If bad
weather occurs during flowering, the Merlot vine is prone to
develop coulure. It
normally ripens up to two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Water stress is important to the vine with it thriving in well
drained soil more so than at base of a slope. Pruning is a major
component to the quality of the wine that is produced. Wine
consultant Michel Rolland is a major proponent for reducing
the yields of Merlot grapes to improve quality.
The age of the vine is also important, with older vines contributing
character to the resulting wine.
of the Merlot grape is the propensity to quickly overripen once
it hits its initial ripeness level, sometimes in a matter of a
few days. There are two schools of thought on the right time to
harvest Merlot. The wine makers of Chateau Petrus favor early
picking to best maintain the wine's
acidity and finesse as well as its potential for aging. Others,
such as Rolland, favor late picking and the added fruit body that
comes with a little bit of over-ripeness.
home to nearly two thirds of the world's total plantings of Merlot. Beyond
France it is also grown in Italy (where it is the country's 5th
most planted grape), California, Romania, Australia, Argentina,
Bulgaria, Turkey, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland,
Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, Mexico and other parts
of the United States such as Washington and Long Island. It grows
in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon but tends to
be cultivated in the cooler portions of those areas. In areas
that are too warm, Merlot will ripen too early.
the most commonly grown grape variety in France. In 2004, total
French plantations stood at 115,000 hectares (280,000 acres). It is most prominent
in Southwest France in regions like Bordeaux, Bergerac and Cahors
where it is often blended with Malbec. The largest recent increase
in Merlot plantations has occurred in the south of France, such
as Languedoc-Roussillon where it is often made as a varietal Vin
de Pays 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 Medoc. 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-Ã‰milion where it will commonly
comprises the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and
rare wines in the world, Chateau Petrus, 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 a tannic
backbone than what is found in other Bordeaux regions. It was
in Pomerol that the garagiste movement began with small
scale production of highly sought after Merlot based wines. In
the sandy, clay-limestone based soils of Saint-Emilion, 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.
a large portion of Merlot is planted in the Friuli wine region
where it is made as a varietal or sometimes blended with Cabernet
Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. In other parts of Italy, such as
Tuscany, it is often blended with Sangiovese to give the wine
a similar softening effect as the Bordeaux blends. Merlot's
low acidity serves as a balance for the higher acidity in many
Italian wine grapes with the grape often being used in blends
in the Veneto, Alto Adige and Umbria.
The Strada del Merlot is a popular tourist route through
Merlot wine countries along the Isonzo river. Italian
Merlots are often characterized by their light bodies and herbal
Merlot complements other grapes as a component in Bull's Blood.
It is also made into varietal wine which is noted for its balanced
acid levels and sweet taste. In the Eastern
European countries of Bulgaria, Moldova, Croatia and Romania,
Merlot is often produced as a full bodied wine that can be very
similar to Cabernet Sauvignon.
In Switzerland, Merlot accounts for nearly 85% of the wine production
in Ticino where it is often made in a pale "white Merlot" style.
In Spain, winemakers are petitioning authorities to allow Merlot
to be a permitted grape in the red wines of the Rioja region.
Plantings of Merlot has increased in recent years in the Austrian
wine region of Burgenland where vineyards previously growing Welschriesling
are being uprooted to make room for more plantings.
the early history of California wine, the Merlot was used primarily
as a 100% varietal wine until wine maker Warren Winiarski encouraged
taking the grape back to its blending roots with Bordeaux style
In California, Merlot can range from very fruity simple wines
(sometimes referred to by critics as a "red Chardonnay") to
more serious, barrel aged examples. It can also be used a primary
component in Meritage blends.
While Merlot is grown throughout the state, it is particularly
prominent in Napa, Monterey and Sonoma County. In Napa, examples
from Carneros, Mount Veeder, Oakville and Rutherford tend to
show ripe blackberry and black raspberry notes. Sonoma Merlots
from Alexander Valley, Carneros and Dry Creek Valley tend to
show plum, tea leaf and black cherry 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 most widely grown red wine grape in the state and accounts
for nearly one fifth of the state's entire production. It is widely
planted throughout the Columbia Valley AVA but has earned particular
notice from plantings grown in Walla Walla, Red Mountain and the
Horse Heaven Hills.
Washington Merlots are noted for their deep color and balanced
The state's climate lends itself towards long days and hours of
sunshine with cool nights that contributes to a significant diurnal
temperature variation and produces wines with New World fruitiness
and Old World structure.
Other US regions producing significant quantities of Merlot include
New York State's Long Island AVA, Virginia's Shenandoah Valley
AVA and Oregon's Rogue Valley AVA.
New World regions
Merlot plantings have been increasing in the Mendoza region
with the grape showing an affinity to the Tupungato region of
the Uco Valley. Argentine Merlots grown in the higher elevations
of Tunpungato have shown a balance of ripe fruit, tannic structure
and acidty. In New Zealand, plantings of Merlot have increased
in the Hawkes Bay area, particularly in Gimblett Gravels where
the grape has shown the ability to produce Bordeaux style wine.
The grape has been growing in favor among New Zealand producers
due to its ability to ripen better, with less green flavors,
than Cabernet Sauvignon. Other regions with significant plantings
include Auckland and Marlborough. In Australia, some vineyards
labeled as "Merlot" were discovered to actually be Cabernet
Franc (a similar discovery was made in best vineyards of Californian
Merlot producer Duckhorn Vineyards). In South Africa, plantings
of Merlot has focused on cooler sites within the Paarl and Stellenbosch
Merlot thrives in the Apalta region of Colchagua. It
is also grown in significant quantities in Curico, Casablanca
and the Maipo Valley. Until the early 1990s, the Chilean wine
industry mistakenly sold a large quantity of wine made from the
Carmenere 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 Chateau Margaux and Chateau Cos d'Estournal)
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
CarmÃ©nÃ¨re, 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 Carmenere being more strongly
flavored with green pepper notes and Merlot having softer fruit
with chocolate notes. The labeling Chilean Merlot is a
catch-all to include wine that is made from a blend of indiscriminate
amounts of Merlot and Carmenere. With Merlot ripening 3 weeks
earlier than Carmenere, these wines differ greatly in quality
depending on harvesting.
Merlot is cultivated primarily in the Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe
Valley) of Baja California, the country´s main wine producing
area. Plantings have increased substantially since the 1980s,
and cultivation has spread into the nearby areas of Ojos Negros
and Santo Tomas.
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
is made the same way as White Zinfandel. The grapes are crushed,
and after very brief skin contact, the resulting pink juice is
run off the must to then be fermented. It normally has a hint
of raspberry. White Merlot was reputedly first marketed in the
late 1990s, and should not be confused with wines made from the
white mutant of the grape. In Switzerland, a type of White Merlot
is made in the Ticino region but has been considered more a rose.
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.
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