Merlot

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What is Merlot

Merlot is a versatile red grape variety that's famous for being a component in the Bordeaux-style blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Merlot grapes can be either black-skinned, red-skinned, or blue-skinned but no matter the colour, it is popular for wine blends and single-variental wines. Merlot wines are one of the most expensive in the world and thrive in many winemaking regions including the United States, Italy, Chile, Australia, and South Africa. The versatility of the Merlot grape contributes to the many wine styles from it, earning a chameleon-like reputation as its characteristics and taste can change depending on the climate, soil, and winemaking technique in the place where it's grown. Merlot is a dry wine with medium acidity with a medium to full body. Generally, it will exhibit dark fruit flavours such as blackberry, plum, and black cherry with notes of herbal and vanilla or mocha undertones.

What is Merlot

Merlot is a versatile red grape variety that's famous for being a component in the Bordeaux-style blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Merlot grapes can be either black-skinned, red-skinned, or blue-skinned but no matter the colour, it is popular for wine blends and single-variental wines. Merlot wines are one of the most expensive in the world and thrive in many winemaking regions including the United States, Italy, Chile, Australia, and South Africa. The versatility of the Merlot grape contributes to the many wine styles from it, earning a chameleon-like reputation as its characteristics and taste can change depending on the climate, soil, and winemaking technique in the place where it's grown. Merlot is a dry wine with medium acidity with a medium to full body. Generally, it will exhibit dark fruit flavours such as blackberry, plum, and black cherry with notes of herbal and vanilla or mocha undertones.

History of Merlot

The earliest recorded mention of Merlot was in 1784 when a local Bordeaux official labelled the wine made from Merlot grapes were the Libournais' best. In 1824, the grape was again mentioned in the article stating that the word Merlot itself was named after the local black bird "Merlau", who liked eating grapes from the vine. Merlot was regularly planted in the Medoc until a series of setbacks including a severe frost in 1956 where French authorities banned new plantings of the Merlot vines between 1970 to 1975. In the late 1990s, researchers found that Merlot was the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. Merlot has been crossbred with other grapes to create other varieties, including Ederena, Nigra, Prodest and Rebo among others. Merlot has also spawned a colour mutation used commercially, a pink-skinned grape variety that's known as Merlot Gris. Compared to the relationship between Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, this grape is not a colour mutation but instead an offspring of Merlot and Folle Blanche. Since then, Merlot wine has been grown in different regions of the world including the United States, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, and South Africa. It is used for varietal wines and as a blending grape. In California, Merlot thrives in places like Napa Valley and Sonoma, but many bottles are labelled simply as California Merlot. This wine can range from very fruity wines to barrel-aged ones. Merlot represents 85% of the grapes planted in Ticino, Switzerland and although rare, some parts of Switzerland are known for producing rosé using Merlot. In South Africa, Merlot can be found in the cooler climates of Paarl and Stellenbosch. It's the South African red wine with the eighth most planted grape in the country.

Merlot Taste Profile

Merlot is a red wine that's dry, medium to full body, and with moderate acidity. Its pronounced yet not overpowering tannins give off a smooth texture that's loved by wine drinkers. Its flavour depends on where it's grown as well as the winemaking techniques done. No matter the region, Merlot taste like ripe fruit flavors such as black cherry, plum, raspberry, plum, and blackberry. However, these fruit flavours do not mean that it's sweet. The winemaking process determines the sweetness of the Merlot. Old World Merlot are picked earlier so it's more balanced. It can be higher in acid and lower in alcohol, with various flavours such as strawberry, raspberry, and cherry with the occasional vegetal note. Meanwhile, New World Merlot is harvested late to emphasize fruitier flavours. It can be low in acid and high in alcohol with various dark fruit flavours like blueberry, black cherry, plum, and cassis with velvety tannins. Some Merlot can be sweet and some dry, with the alcohol varying greatly depending on how ripe the grapes were when it was harvested. Moreover, the taste can vary depending on if the winemaker has added sugar and how long they allowed the grape to ferment. The fragrance of Merlot ranges from fresh red plum and cherry in cooler climates, while Merlot from warmer climates exudes blackberry and fruitcake aromas. As it ages, Merlot smells more chocolatey with hints of tobacco.

Food Pairings

Due to its different flavours depending on where it's grown, Merlot is a versatile wine that pairs with a lot of dishes. Its velvety texture and rich fruit flavours complement a lot of dishes whether it be savoury, salty, or sweet. Many great Merlot are medium-bodied wines, which makes it best with sauce-based dishes. It can also be used as a base for red wine sauces in cooking. Light Merlots work best with pizza toasted cheese dishes, or tomato-based pasta dishes. You can also try it with grilled chicken, or charcuterie. Meanwhile, riper Merlot can be paired with spicy rice dishes, roasted turkey, or Chinese-style crispy duck pancakes. Traditional Merlot such as those from Bordeaux, can be enjoyed with steak, beef wellington, roast beef or chicken, and roast duck. If you want to enjoy a full-bodied wine or Merlot-dominated blend, you can pair it with roast beef or roast lamb.

How is Merlot best served?

It is quite simple to enjoy Merlot, typically between 60–68°F / 15-20°C to ensure that its aromas are pronounced but not its alcohol. If you want to experience your wine through multiple stages, you can place it in the fridge for 15-30 minutes before serving. Generally, Merlot doesn't need to be decanted except for older or more complex ones. You also have the option to decant it for 30 minutes before serving, but this is all depending on your preference. It's your wine to enjoy however you like. If you don't finish your bottle, replace the cork or place your wine back in the fridge. The flavours of your Merlot will stay fresh for 2-4 days until it starts to oxidize. From then, you can enjoy your wine as a red wine sauce for dishes. Some Merlots can age gracefully for 3-7 years, while great ones can enhance their flavours and complexity for 15 years or more. Over time, Merlot can have spicy and plum notes with dark chocolate undertones. You should store your Merlot in a cool place that doesn't receive direct sunlight, heat, or too much humidity. Preferably, you can store your wine in a fridge or cellar. South Africa's long history of wine-making has produced many high-quality and award-winning wines that wine drinkers have just started to discover. Message In A Bottle has a wide range of South African wines from velvety wines to refreshing whites that can get you started on the New World journey.