aka Picard, Langon


Merlot was first recorded in an area near Venice, Italy in 1855.  There it was better known as Bordo.  From Italy, the grape was introduced to France and Switzerland.  The name Merlot is believed to come from the Old French word for young blackbird, merlot.  Researchers at University of California, Davis concluded that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is related to Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Places It Is Grown

Merlot is the most commonly grown grape in France.  The nearly 2/3 of the world’s total plantings are planted most prominently in the southwest of France.  Regions like Bordeaux, Bergerac and Cahors have consistently grown Merlot.  New plantings have increased in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon.  While traveling through France you can also find Merlot being grown in the regions of Provence, Loire Valley, Savoie, Ardèche, Charente, Corrèze, Drôme, Isère and Vienne.

In Italy Merlot is a very popular grape.  Today, Merlot ranks as Italy’s 5th most planted grape.  Elsewhere in Europe, Merlot is grown in Romania,Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, and Slovenia.  Merlot has also found a home in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.  Besides the United States, Mexico, Canada,Chile and Argentina also grow Merlot in the Americas.

When brought to California during the 1850s and 1870s, Merlot didn’t make a real dent in the industry.  Merlot remained unknown/ignored until the 1990s.  It excelled due its accessibility to novice wine drinkers.  Merlot can also be found in Washington state and Long Island.

Properties Of Grape

Merlot grapes are the second most widely-planted black wine grape in the world.  They are identified by loose bunches of large berries.  The color of the grape is a lighter blue/black hue than that of the Cabernet Sauvignon.  Merlot grapes also have a thinner skin which provides fewer tannins.  However, as compared to Cabernet, Merlot tends to have a higher sugar content and lower counts of malic acid.

Due to its similar characteristics, Merlot is grown in many areas that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon.  Merlot is usually cultivated in the cooler sections of those areas.  When planted in areas that are warm the grape will ripen too early.  The vine itself buds early which increases the risk posed by cold frost.  Merlot’s thin skin also increases the grape’s susceptibility to rot. If frost, rain, or early heat waves in spring occur during flowering, the threat of developing coulure increases.

Merlot ripens at least a week earlier than any of the other Cabernet varieties.  The grape has the characteristic of quickly over-ripening once it reaches its initial ripeness level.  This can all happen in the space of a few days.   Merlot is known, within the industry as “vineyard insurance” where rains are frequently a factor at harvest.

The right time to harvest Merlot is still up for debate.  The two schools of thought that abound are that 1) It is best to pick early in order to maintain the wine’s best qualities and outcome for aging; and 2) It is best to pick late because of the increased development of sugars which can add to the overall body of the wine.

Beyond harvest schedules, the best quality Merlot grows in rocky, arid ground.  The vine is fairly adaptable and tends to thrive in damp and cold ferrous clay soils.  The vine can be placed under water stress thus, it is important for the success of the vine that it is grown in well-drained soil more so than at the base of a slope.  In southwestern France, in the area of Pomerol the iron-clay soils add to Merlot’s tannin levels.  When Merlot grows in limestone it tends to develop perfume notes.  In sandy soils, the tannin levels are lower when compared to Merlot grown in clay dominant soils.

The Merlot vine is moderately vigorous and must be judiciously pruned followed by cluster thinning throughout the growing season.  Pruning is a major component to the success of the vine and the quality of the wine that is produced.   Many industry specialists agree that reducing yields often leads to a higher quality grape no matter what type.  On fertile, well-drained soil, the Merlot vine can produce up to eight tons per acre.  However, the best quality fruit tends to show if the entire yield is kept below six tons per acre.

Three main styles of Merlot have emerged.  The first style is that of a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins (grown in cooler climates).  The second style is that of a fruity wine with more tannic structure.  Lastly, the third style that has emerged is that of a brawny, highly tannic style similar to Cabernet Sauvignon.

The fruit notes most commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, ollalieberry and plum. Vegetable and earthy notes present include black and green olives, cola nut, bell pepper, fennel, humus, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb and tobacco.  Floral and herbal notes that are most commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea, eucalyptus, laurel, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage, sarsaparilla and thyme. After Merlot is aged in oak, the wine can present notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.

Partnering With Food

Rule #1: Matching the alcohol level and body of the wine to the heaviness of the food should make for a proper pairing every time.

When pairing with food, Merlot’s diversity in styles offers a wide variety of options.  Merlot’s grown in warmer climates, and thought of as Cabernet-esqe, can be paired with many of the same dishes.  Softer, fruitier Merlot with a bit less body and can be paired well with many of the same foods that Pinot Noir would be paired with.  Light-bodied Merlot must be paired with food that won’t overwhelm it.  Most Merlot tends to not go well with strong and blue veined cheeses.  Spicy foods, high in capsaicins have a tendency to heighten the perception of alcohol in Merlot causing it to taste more tannic and bitter.

Below are a list of foods and dishes that should pair well with a Merlot varietal:

  • BBQ Beef
  • Grilled and charred meats
  • Grilled salmon
  • Pan-Fried Veal Chops with Wild Mushrooms
  • Roasted Lamb Shanks with Greens
  • Beef Carpaccio
  • Bluefin Steaks
  • Red Tuna Steaks
  • Grilled Prawns
  • Scallops and Bacon
  • Melon and Proscuitto
  • Soft cheeses

Restaurants With These Types of Dishes

To view restaurants that serve appetizers, entrees and other dishes that partner well with this grape type, click here….

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.

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