Merlot is one of the most prominent red wine grapes; it’s generous, juicy, and fruit-forward, making it hard not to fall in love with. We’re talking about wine to please all palates, designed to be tasty although not overly-complex.
Merlot is the second most planted grape worldwide, and it’s behind both approachable wines and collectible items worthy of any fine dining wine list.
It’s easy to see why Merlot has such a reputation; it’s pleasant and complex enough to please those in the know, but sufficiently approachable for inexperienced wine enthusiasts to appreciate it. Merlot is a medium-bodied grape, not too light nor too heavy; it’s just perfect.
It’s time to take a close look at Merlot. Let’s dig deep into its origins and flavors. Learn how to pair Merlot with food and how to enjoy it at its fullest.
Here’s all you wanted to know about Merlot, an extraordinary grape indeed, and one that’s here to stay.
The History of Merlot, A Loyal Companion
Merlot is a French grape variety that thrives in the vineyards of Bordeaux. It’s easy to recognize it for its round grains with blue hues, the source of the grape’s name, called Merlot, after a black bird that visits the vineyards.
The first records mentioning Merlot go back to the year 1784 when the grape was planted along with another famous red grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot and Cabernet are often grown together because they complement each other. Merlot might be juicy and fruity, but it often lacks structure — that’s where the sturdy Cabernet grapes come in.
Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc, another Bordelaise grape, and it’s Cabernet Sauvignon’s sibling. They were born to be together.
Interestingly, Merlot also found the grape growers favor in northern Italy, where it too, capitalized the vineyards in the 19th century for soft red wine, true to the Italian style.
Nevertheless, Merlot is better traveled than that; it found its way to every major wine region on earth and it goes wherever Cabernet Sauvignon goes.
Merlot has enjoyed popularity, but it has also lost the publics’ favor. There’s no doubt, though, that it’s a noble grape with a bright future ahead.
Merlot Around The World
Merlot is the most planted grape in Bordeaux, France. It’s the workhorse behind most of the region’s red wines, and it’s almost exclusively blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Californian winemakers are quite fond of Merlot, and they grow it everywhere in the state. Also, in the US, Washington State has made a name for itself because of Merlot.
Chile, in South America, grows lots of Merlot, and the wine is quite pleasant, still, never over-complicated. Northern Italy produces Merlot as well, and the colder climate makes the wines tarter and lighter.
You won’t find it hard to see Merlot bottles from South Africa and Australia, but we could say the same about any wine-producing country in the old and the new world. Merlot is just too popular.
From bottles priced at a few bucks to contemplative wines like the distinguished French ‘Petrus’ that goes for several thousand dollars, Merlot is available at all price ranges, and it’s without a doubt one of the leading grapes in the world market.
How Does Merlot Taste Like?
When it comes to flavor and aromas, Merlot is a two-sided coin. On one side, the grape can produce young, plump, and juicy wine that is very easy to enjoy. These are pleasing wines with not much complexity designed to be savored casually.
These wines taste like blackberries and blueberries over a round palate that’s incredibly smooth. Not too concentrated or heavy, but not light either. These are mid-point wines, and they’re crowd-pleasers.
On the other side, when Merlot vines produce low yields, they can result in structured wines that can be long-lived. These are mostly produced in Bordeaux’s right bank, around the towns of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. The flavors can be reminiscent of blueberries, plums, dark chocolate, and brown spices.
The coating mouthfeel, the juiciness, and the berry flavors characterize Merlot, making it hard to forget. It’s just easy to love.
Pairing Merlot With Food
Since Merlot lies in the middle regarding mouthfeel and astringency, it is very versatile at the table. Red meats, game, stews, and casseroles are nice pairings for it.
Chicken, turkey, and all roasted poultry dishes are livened with Merlot as well, and even vegetable-based dishes turn out to be quite lovely with a glass of the blue grape.
To pair Merlot with steak, you’re better off with lean meat like a fillet mignon and should leave fattier cuts of meat to sturdier wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is so easy to enjoy, it’s not rare to enjoy it on its own, slightly chilled as an apéritif, and it can accompany an entire meal from start to finish.
Merlot is hard to replace; few wine grapes have such a noble character. There are, though, some grapes that can substitute it on the table.
- Malbec can be round and juicy, although it can be a bit heavier than Merlot.
- A young Cabernet Sauvignon with few tannins can take Merlot’s place, although it might be more astringent.
- Carmenere, a specialty grape from Chile, is mid-bodied and round and can have flavors not dissimilar to Merlot.
- Montepulciano, an Italian grape found in the Abruzzo region, is very similar to Merlot in both structure and flavor.
A Grape With a Kind Spirit
Merlot often takes the back seat compared with more substantial grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s a noble grape worthy of attention. The finest Merlot-based wines are suitable for the most exclusive wine collections, while the more approachable examples are the quintessential everyday red wine.
Try Merlot at different price points and from different countries and wine regions. Discover all the grape’s facets and find your favorite. Merlot is not one thing but many, and there’s one to please every palate. Don’t overlook Merlot; sometimes, the most enjoyable things in life are the most straightforward.
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