The plump and juicy Merlot grape variety is native to the French region of Bordeaux, having been procured from some of the best Bordeaux estates in preparation for transplant to the United States, hundreds of years ago. This is a temperamental grape, as it is very particular to its growing environment. Thus, it has acclimated itself to only a few select wine growing regions in the states; that is besides its natural atmosphere in France. The Merlot also grows quite well in northeast Italy.
Merlot’s finicky nature stems from the fact that the grape ripens in mid season, with a need to ripen slowly and be picked before its acidity declines. In the United States, this makes the warm, gradual summers of the Napa Valley in California ideal for this varietal, but not too warm, as this tends to make the grape’s malic acid respire. Sonoma, Carneros, and Santa Barbara also are proficient Merlot growing regions in the golden state. Washington’s Yakima and Columbia Valleys, as well as New York’s Long Island, also offer conducive climate ranges for the Merlot.
Outside of the United States, there are over two dozen other countries that plant the Merlot. There are over 460,000 acres of Merlot planted in the world, with eighty-three percent of these acres planted in Europe, and twenty-four percent of those are in Bordeaux. But aside from plain numbers, there is wine. Some of the other larger planting Merlot countries include Italy, South Africa, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and Spain. The remaining areas that can boast thriving merlot winegrapes are Israel, Hungary, Switzerland, Georgia, Russia, Mexico, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Argentina, and Slovenia.
The perfect Merlot growing season would boast a moderate, but dry climate. The Merlot tolerates cools seasons quite well. Rainy and cool, damp regions do not produce a healthy grape. Areas such as Oregon give examples of this type of grape trauma. Poor fruit set in the spring results from the damp air, which results later in an autumn full of rotten, moldy grapes.
While the Merlot variety of grape is thought to have gotten its start in France, it has actually been found to be descended of Mediterranean vines, transferring to Bordeaux in the early Christian era, where it has been traced back to the first century in Bordeaux. The grape did not make an appearance on its own, however, until the nineteenth century. It was at that time that Merlot evolved out of the biturica varietal, along with Malbec. Although it was then that the Merlot began to be dispersed throughout the continents, but the wine never gained the true acclaim that it deserved until the 1970’s, when fine wine became a booming proposition.
The Merlot winegrape is just one of the red varieties grown in its native Bordeaux. It actually ranks third in plantings behind the Grenache and Carignan. Although, even in Medoc, a famous Cabernet Sauvignon growing area, the Merlot constitutes up to forty percent of the plantings there. Merlot is one of the most popular fine winegrapes in the world. The Merlot has gained acclaim all over Eastern Europe and Australia. Much of its popularity stems from its duality as both a hearty grape in cold temperatures that can produce complex flavors, and as a winegrape used for complimenting harsher varietals to produce a drinkable young wine. The Merlot has been known to thrive in conditions where the ever popular Cabernet Sauvignon cannot, making it the obvious choice for vineyards in those areas.
Another feature that makes Merlot so popular is that it offers higher alcohol content with less tannins than a Cabernet Sauvignon, even when the two are grown in the same region under the same conditions.
These attributes that make Merlot a suitable young drinking wine also lend it toward a non cellaring career. Merlots do not hold up to aging like other reds do, making it a great wine for those who want to enjoy a contemporary red. It is the ideal choice for those looking for a fine wine without having the worries of cellaring.
Flavors of the Merlot are great, complex, and rich. Fruit flavors abide in this palatable wine; with the most notable of those being cherry, plum, and blackcurrant. The bouquet that it presents is floral, reminiscent of violets and roses; with hints of mint, caramel, bay leaves, and cloves to arose your sensibilities. Chocolate has even been mentioned as a common underpinning in Merlots.
One sought after bottling of Merlot is the 1999 Chateau Petrus, which earned an unheard of perfect score, one hundred, from Wine Spectator. This rare wine is offered at retail for about twelve hundred dollars. This Bordeaux wine demands, and earns, these types of high prices consistently, and is the purest form of Merlot found.
Regardless of region of origin, Merlot can be placed into three distinguishing categories. These three groups include the soft and fruity Merlot, the medium weight Merlot with depth, and the full and rich Merlots. The first grouping, that of the soft and fruity brand of Merlot is smooth with distinct fruitiness. It offers the most drinkability, but has a short lifespan. This type should be utilized within two to six years of purchase. This style is suitable paired with easy dishes of meat, pork, and pasts, or with mild cheeses and salads. This Merlot can be served lightly chilled on hot summer days without fear of destroying the wine.
The medium weight categorization offers Merlots with nice depth. These medium bodied wines offer richness and the increased ability to age. They are good for over at least four years, with some that can exceed twenty years after bottling. When offering this selection with a meal, any pork, lamb, veal, and pasts dish will suit. Older varieties may demand a more simpler dish, while younger wines can handle more complex dishes.
The final grouping is a full bodied Merlot, wonderful in their flavor, bouquet, and oakiness. These rich Merlots accent more developed foods and creamy cheeses. Game and duck dishes also stand up beautifully to this wine.
How are these different varieties of the same grape produced? There are several influences that can morph the Merlot into taking on separate and distinct characteristics. Of course the region, climate, age of the vine, and handling of the produce all play an important role on the intrinsic qualities of the Merlot, but these subtleties can be enhanced or underplayed with careful planning. The two mechanisms developed for achieving such manipulations are oak aging and blending of Merlot.
Oak aging is reserved for the medium to higher priced Merlots. This process aids in cultivating the deep flavors and aromas presented by these merlots. Oak also helps to smooth the finish of the wine.
The blending of Merlot has been in practice for quite some time, mainly being blended with other wines native to its own region, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Frank, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. In the same turn, there has been increased production of these wines being blended into the Merlot to enhance the wine with their flavors and intricacies.
Merlot is a fine wine to serve at any occasion or dinner party. There are several distinctive ways to serve the various types of Merlot that will compliment their individual qualities. The stemware used to serve the wine in is of the utmost importance when pulling off a great wine. Use glasses that suit not only the wine, but also the occasion and mood of the setting. Since the wine deserves adequate attention, serve in a stemmed glass to accentuate the large bowl, which will aid in swirling the wine; releasing its flavors and aromas. This is the perfect glassware to serve more mature Merlots.
Traditional tulip shaped glasses can also be used; but the age of the wine should determine the size of the bowl. Younger wines can tolerate a large tulip shape quite well as it envelops the fruitiness of Merlot. More mature Merlots will require a smaller tulip shape that can capture both the fruitiness and complexity of the wine.
There are many different Merlot wines made to please every palate and price range. I have comprised a list of a few good drinking Merlots at the under ten dollar range, and the over twenty five dollar range.
For under ten dollars, consumers can find decent Merlots at competitive prices. Bogle, from California, is a developed merlot with intense fruit and deep cherry flavors. Kendall Jackson offers another value wine from California, and was rated 87 by Robert Parker. Intense wild berry and mocha flavors combined with black cherry and anise notes. It has a luxurious smooth, mouthful presence, with a complex rich finish. Goerges Dubeuf Merlot, Special Select, is an easy drinking French Merlot with soft berry flavors and a smooth finish.
For twenty-five dollars or more, the wine enthusiast is sure to find a Merlot that suits the most complex palate’s demands. Duckhorn, a California Merlot with a supple, concentrated cherry and currant flavors, is a well balanced and powerful wine that can be purchased in the mid forty dollar range. The Merlot Toscana Castel Giocono Lamaione; a Monster Merlot rated 97 by Wine Spectator, has stunning aromas of exotic spice, berry and vanilla. It is a full bodied wine that commands attention. It is priced around fifty-five dollars.
No matter what your pleasure, Merlot is sure to have a wine that can satisfy any appetite.