A few years ago, an American movie Sideways, mocked the easy charm and ubiquity of Merlot. Sales in the U.S. tumbled and it seemed as if Merlot’s future was uncertain. However, on the other side of the Atlantic, Merlot is the most planted grape variety in Bordeaux and its charm, its early ripening and its high sugar levels can explain its success. Merlot is round and voluptuous when ripe; it envelops the palate with juicy plum fruit, round tannins and a silky texture.
Like its sibling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot makes good wines in a variety of climates and regions. It is easy to grow, producing good yields and more sweet, round fruit often with an opulent character. It comes to its peak on the plateau of Pomerol where two famous wines, Le Pin and Petrus, are made uniquely from Merlot grapes. Here, the cooler, water-retentive soils of calcareous clay are ideally suited to Merlot, which requires less heat to ripen than Cabernet Sauvignon. In Saint-Emilion , it is often blended with Cabernet Franc, which lends minty freshness, acidity and tannic structure to the sometimes overly rounded Merlot. Pomerol can be recognised by its earthy truffle scent while Saint-Emilion wines are more fruit-dominated. Once mature, these wines develop a typically smoky aroma.
Merlot’s character is often exploited in blending: in Tuscan Chianti, for instance, soft Merlot rounds Sangiovese’s rougher edges while Vino Nobile di Montepulciano gains extra juiciness and fruit by its addition. Elsewhere in the world, it is very important in Chile and to a lesser extent in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
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