The pedigree of this grape variety is unknown, but it has been cultivated in France for centuries. Whether because of its predilection for grape berries or on account of its dark feathers, the dark grapes with the blue sheen take their name from the blackbird, called “merle” in French. A Merlot wine displays fruitiness, lots of body and prominent berry aromas. Thanks to its low tannin content and a good acidity structure, it has a silky-smooth mouthfeel. Merlot is one of the world’s most popular red grape varieties.
Merlot wine: fruit-driven and good blending partner
Merlot probably originated in the Bordeaux wine region of France, where it is also the most-planted red wine grape variety. It ripens earlier than the similar Cabernet Sauvignon and often has a higher sugar content. This explains why Merlot wines have 1% more alcohol. The Merlot grape has a thinner skin than Cabernet Sauvignon so its wines have fewer tannins and less longevity, but their higher sugar content makes them sweet. Their fruity aromas are reminiscent of plums and forest berries.
Their supple fruitiness makes them perfect for balancing hard Cabernet wines. Merlot makes an ideal blending partner as it harmonizes well with other grapes. It does not push itself into the limelight, but rather underpins the flavours of the other varieties. It is also ideal for barrel-ageing.
Merlot is a high-yielding variety and produces rather simple wines if yields are not limited. Single-varietal Merlots can also be top-class wines, however. The best examples come from the Pomerol area of Bordeaux, such as Château Pétrus or Château Le Pin. Elsewhere in Bordeaux the variety is predominantly grown in Libourne and around the municipalities of Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Fronsac, Bourg and Blaye. In the Médoc it is blended with other varieties to produce softer wines that can be drunk earlier.
Its luscious fruit aromas go well with strongly flavoured foods such as game in spicy sauces, braised meat and poultry. It is also perfect with French hard cheeses. And these supple, harmonious wines are good for simply drinking on their own too.
Cultivation of the Merlot variety around the world
As it is an early-ripening variety, Merlot can be picked earlier than many other red wine grapes. However, the early-budding vines are sensitive to late spring frosts. The variety is also very popular outside its French homeland. Globally, plantings have doubled in the space of 20 years. The biggest growing areas are in northern Italy and France, but Merlot is also cultivated in Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Greece and overseas.
First-class terroir in Bordeaux
The region around Bordeaux in France is indisputably the number one terroir for Merlot wines. The loamy soils there yield full-bodied wines with a high extract. In particular, the appellations of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are outstanding. As well as in the vineyards of Bordeaux, Merlot is also cultivated in Languedoc-Roussillon.
Merlot wines from Italy
Italian Merlots are lighter than wines from France or overseas. The main growing regions are in the north of Italy in Trentino, Friuli and Veneto. In Italy, barrique-aged Merlots develop interesting aromas. Merlot is often blended with Sangiovese and Tempranillo grapes there which emphasizes the fruitiness of the Merlot wine.
Merlot in Germany
This variety has gained in importance in Germany since the first terraces were planted with Merlot in 1997. The Palatinate and Rheinhessen are the main regions where it is grown.
Merlot in Switzerland
Merlot is the predominant grape variety in the Swiss canton of Ticino where both rustic and modern styles are vinified. Merlot is usually produced as a single-varietal there. There are also plantings in the canton of Vaud.
Impressive Merlot wines from overseas
The Merlot grape variety was discovered by the “New World” in the 1990s and it is becoming increasingly popular in Chile, South Africa and New Zealand too. It tends to be much fruitier in the warm regions of Australia, California and South Africa.Discover the wide range of Merlot wines in Mondovino’s online shop or in Coop stores.