Merlot, is one of the world’s most popular red wine varietals, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as the most planted red, with an increasing trend. Originating in Bordeaux, Merlot’s name stems from the old French word for ‘blackbird’ - either because of the grape’s beautiful dark-blue colour or the blackbird’s fondness for the grapes. Beyond France it is widely planted in Italy, California, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Switzerland, Hungary and Romania. Merlot grows in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon, although it tends to be cultivated in the cooler portions, ripening too quickly in warmer areas.
“Softness”, “fleshiness” and “approachability” are commonly used to describe Merlot wines. In traditional ‘Left Bank’ Bordeaux blends, Merlot’s role is to add body and softness to the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, that also tends to be higher in astringent tannin - creating popular Cabernet Merlots. But, on the cooler ‘Right Bank’ of Bordeaux’s Gironde river, Merlot is dominant. One of the world’s rarest (and most expensive) wines - Chateau Petrus - comes from Pomerol on the Right Bank, and is almost exclusively Merlot.
The 1990s saw a rapid upswing in Merlot’s popularity in the USA following TV reports on the French Paradox, highlighting potential health benefits of red wine. Merlot’s soft, fruity profile, and approachability for novice red drinkers - as well as the relative ease in pronouncing its name - contributed greatly to sales.
Whether consumers find Merlot easy-to-drink or easy-to-say, a similar growth in popularity took place here in Australia.
Merlot produces its best examples in cooler sites where Cabernet Sauvignon also thrives. Therefore some of our best Merlots as straight varietals come from Coonawarra, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, King Valley (north east Victoria) and Adelaide Hills.
While Merlot’s flavour profile is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, it tends be more herbaceous in both aroma and taste. Like Cabernet, the diversity of Merlot lends itself to a wide array of food-matching options:
A pioneer of Merlot, James Irvine has produced an attractive plump style with leafy plum and mulberry flavours. The perfect match with crown of lamb.
When it comes to Australian Merlot, Katnok is among the very best. Lovely plum dark berry and cedary cidar box characters slip seamlessly into a finish that seems everlasting.
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