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Categorized | Red Wine

Wine 101-Merlot



merlot Wine 101 Merlot

About Merlot


Merlot, which enjoyed a meteoric rise to become the darling of the red wine world, has been planted widely on multiple continents, as the grape is very easy to cultivate. But, the grape tends towards high production, and if the viticulturist is not rigorous about controlling yields, the resulting wines tend to be dull and insipid. We’re afraid that so much dull wine has now hit the market, many consumers have forgotten how remarkable excellent Merlot can be. At its best, Merlot makes a broad, supple wine with medium to full body, showing aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, dark berries, chocolate and tobacco.

The classic expressions of the grape come from the Right Bank of Bordeaux in the appellations of St. Emilion and Pomerol. Here Merlot is the dominant grape, although producers will include some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon into the mix. These wines will be characterized by extravagantly rich, sweet fruit, and supple tannins. While in tiny Pomerol, land is scare and prices for wine are correspondingly high, St. Emilion is much larger and offers a greater share of satisfying bottles at affordable prices. Keep in mind that in the latter appellation, especially, these blends will have plenty of Cabernet Franc in addition to the Merlot.

But if Bordeaux is the classic home of Merlot-based winemaking, California provided the locale for the Merlot frenzy of the 1990s. A general rise in American wine consumption, combined with a growing preference for single-varietal wines (and away from generic blends) led to a surge in plantings in California. We can’t help but think that some of the popularity came from the easy-to-pronounce nature of the grape’s name. It’s undeniably less of a mouthful than "Cabernet Sauvignon." But since Merlot also provides a wine with aromas and flavors similar to Cabernet but also with a softer, fleshier character and fewer tannins, these qualities also likely contributed to its ascent. Unfortunately, many California producers responded to the boom by indiscriminately planting Merlot in wildly inappropriate locations, and a backlash against the grape ultimately occurred–nicely encapsulated by the attitude of the character Miles, in the 2004 film "Sideways."

Still, many of California’s top Merlots come from plantings that predate the boom, and many of these wines are worth seeking out. We like the wines from Beringer, Duckhorn, and Havens Winery. Some quality Merlot is also planted in Washington State, as well as in Italy.

While some top Merlots have excellent aging potential, most are best enjoyed within four to eight years. Merlot’s fruity, easy-drinking character allows it to pair well with many foods: think charcuterie, roasts, and even hamburgers.


Recommended Growing Regions: St. Emilion and Pomerol (France), Napa Valley (California), Tuscany (Italy)
Flavor Profile: Medium to full-bodied wines with flavors of black cherry, plum, and tobacco
Food Pairings: Roasts, hamburgers, other grilled meats
Other Notes: Merlot also shines as a blending grape in Bordeaux’s Left Bank and in Tuscany

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