For long considered the junior partner in the great Bordeaux duo of grape varieties, Merlot has achieved growing popularity in the last decade of the 20th century thanks to the cult worship of certain Merlot-based Pomerols and Saint Emilions in Bordeaux as well as a growing taste for its lusciously plummy and flavoursome early-drinking delights in countries such as Chile and California.
With its soft texture, deliciously plummy fruit flavour and mellow tannins,
Merlot is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking to damp, cool, clay
soils rather than the warmer gravels of the Médoc, plantings of the
earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot outnumber those of Cabernet Sauvignon
in Bordeaux and they are also growing extensively in the south of France. Merlot
ripens earlier and more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its popularity in
France and in northern Italy. It is widely planted in eastern Europe, but
outside France, it is at its most serious in California, where it has become one
of the ‘hottest’ varieties. It is also extensively grown in Chile, where it
produces excellent value, supple-textured reds, and, increasingly in Australia
and New Zealand.
What does it taste like?
- bell pepper and blackcurrant
- chocolate and spice-like characters
MERLOT’s soft texture helps to give it a deliciously plummy, almost
fruitcake-like flavour and a mellow smoothness which makes it more
approachable than its sister grape, the CABERNET SAUVIGNON. Like
cabernet, it can be a little grassy and bell-pepper-like from cool
climate regions and it develops blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry,
chocolate and spice-like characters when fully ripe. Chilean MERLOT
often produces juicy reds with blackcurrant pastille flavours.