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Merlot

Merlot

Merlot Grapes

Merlot is by far the most widely planted grape of the entire Bordeaux region and the third-most-planted red variety in all of France behind Carignan and Grenache. St. Emilion and Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank are the most notable French regions.

Although Merlot is primarily grown for blending, it can be more enjoyable and more approachable on its own than any Cabernet on the planet. You just need to know where to look. Château Petrus in Pomerol, one of the most sought after wines in the world, is over 90% Merlot.

In the New World, Merlots from California and Washington are best known, but it is also made in many other countries with increasing success.

Wine Characteristics

Body:  Medium Full - Full
Tannin: Medium High
Acid: Medium - Medium High
Alcohol: Medium High

Flavor Profile

Fruits: Plums, Black Cherries, Blackberries
Non-Fruits: Kalamata Olive, Anise, Cocoa, Bell Peppers, Violet, Rose
Minerals: Granite, Graphite

Main Growing Regions

Bordeaux: Mostly Right Bank or blended with Left Bank Bordeaux
California: Napa, Sonoma
Washington: Columbia Valley, Walla Walla

Where else I’m grown

France: SW France, Languedoc
California: Pretty much everywhere
Australia: Gaining in popularity
New Zealand: Starting to have a bigger presence on the North Island; most notably in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawke's Bay
Chile: With increasing success

Soils I like to grow in

Volcanic Clay, Gravel, Basalt, Silt, Loess.

Climate I like

Moderate: Since Merlot is an early ripening grape, it does better in a climate where it can get a long hang time on the vine to fully develop properly.  In hot climates, it would not have the time to develop the proper acidity and structure. 

Wine Styles

Merlot can be made in many different styles from fruity and velvety to massively complex and tannic.  It is important to search for producers who are making Merlot to make Merlot.   

Merlot Growing Regions

Tasting Napa and Bordeaux will help you understand, if you are a New World or Old World wine lover. Both regions can definitely offer high quality expressions of the grape varietal. However, one serious question you must ask about the California wine: Is this meant to be drunk with food or just on its own? Then, on the other hand you must ask yourself one question about the Bordeaux wine: Is this a wine ready to be consumed a young or cellared for a little while? 

Napa Valley

In Napa, Merlot can range from very fruit-forward, ready-to-drink wines to more complex, age-worthy examples. The reliably warm weather allows many wineries to use very ripe grapes, which creates a more fruit-forward, rather than earthy or mineral-driven style of wine. Fruit from the mountainside (Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mt. Veeder) will offer power and intensity. Fruit from the valley floor (Rutherford, Yountville and Oak Knoll) will offer finesse and elegance. Styles is a matter of personal preference, but make no mistake that Merlot can be great. Napa Valley Merlot should be picked at optimum ripeness. It is big and bold with rich and powerful explosions of black cherry, plum and coffee flavors that are framed by a substantial amount of new French Oak. It’s like drinking silk.

Right Bank Bordeaux

Merlot in Bordeaux will be more refined and elegant with high tannins and bright acid. Flavors of plum, tobacco and graphite tend to dominate these wines. At a young age, they might seem unapproachable. Patience will certainly be rewarded.   

Chile

Merlot made its way to Chile in the mid-19th century, but didn’t become popular until the early 1990s. If you want to broaden your view of Merlot, try a Chilean one. This Merlot and many others from all over South America will redefine your view of Merlot. If you think of Merlot as a simple and sweet by-the-glass wine on restaurant menus, you have been missing out.

Merlot has received a reputation over the past couple of decades as a low quality, even generic table wine. It has made it difficult for anyone to believe in it and pay adequate value for good, quality expressions of the varietal. There are always good values out there – you just need to know where to look. For Merlot, Chile is a good place to start, while Napa is gonna cost you!

Sonoma County

The beauty of Sonoma County as a wine region is its diversity. Sonoma County not only produces world-class Pinot Noir but also phenomenal Merlot. Because of its diversity, a wide range of grape varieties are grown in Sonoma County and Merlot is one of the most adaptable to the various soils and climates. Chalk Hill and Bennett Valley are two examples of Sonoma sub-regions that do particularly well with Merlot.

A great way to understand the difference between CA Merlot is to taste Napa Valley against a Sonoma Merlot.  Napa produces Merlots of a more powerful and riper style.  When from Sonoma, however, they are more elegant and have brighter acidity.

Washington

Washington ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind only California. Washington’s rise in public perception coincided with that of Merlot, and the state’s soils and continental climate suit the grape. The wines typically lean heavily toward the Bordeaux style. The best Merlots produced in Washington will have a purity of fruit and length that even the finest estates of Pomerol and St. Emilion would envy. 

Food Pairing with Merlot

Merlot is characterized by notes of blackberries, currants, black olives, plum, chocolate, red cherries, anise, cocoa and bell peppers.  Being generally softer in texture and tannins, they lend themselves to comfort foods of all types.  Below are some fun options

  • Roasted Lamb
  • Veal
  • Burgers
  • Meatloaf
  • Summer Vegetables
  • Grilled Sausage
  • Pizza
  • Beef Stews