Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Merlot ('MERL-oh' in British English, mer-LOH in American English and standard French) is a red wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at 260,000 hectares (640,000 acres) globally, with an increasing trend. This put Merlot just behind Cabernet Sauvignon's 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres).

The earliest recorded mention of Merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the area's best. The name comes from the French regional patois word "merlot", which means "young blackbird" ("merle" is the French word for several kinds of thrushes, including blackbirds); the naming came either because of the grape's beautiful dark-blue color, or due to blackbirds' fondness for grapes. By the 19th century it was being regularly planted in the Médoc on the "Left Bank" of the Gironde.

It was first recorded in Italy around Venice under the synonym Bordò in 1855. The grape was introduced to the Swiss, from Bordeaux, sometime in the 19th century and was recorded in the Swiss canton of Ticino between 1905 and 1910.

Researchers at University of California, Davis believe that the grape is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carménère.

Until 1993, the Chilean wine industry mistakenly sold a large quantity of wine made from the Carmenere grape as Merlot. In that year, genetic studies discovered that much of what had been grown as Merlot was actually Carmenere, an old French variety that had gone largely extinct in France due to its poor resistance to phylloxera, which as of 2006 does not exist in Chile.

The labeling Chilean Merlot is a catch-all to include wine that is made from a blend of indiscriminate amounts of Merlot and Carmenere. With Merlot ripening 3 weeks earlier than Carmenere, these wines differ greatly in quality depending on harvesting.

Merlot is produced primarily in France, Italy (where it is the country's 5th most planted grape) and California, Romania and on a lesser scale in Australia, Argentina, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, and other parts of the United States such as Washington and Long Island. It grows in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon but tends to be cultivated in the cooler portions of those areas. In areas that are too warm, Merlot will ripen too early.


Merlot is the most commonly grown grape variety in France. In 2004, total French plantations stood at 115,000 hectares (280,000 acres). Merlot's status as France's most planted variety is a recent phenomenon, from the early 2000s, owing both to the increase of Merlot and the decline of varieties such as Carignan and Ugni blanc. Plantations of Merlot in Bordeaux have expanded, as previous white wine areas have been converted to the production of Merlot-dominated red wines. The largest increase in Merlot plantations, however, has occurred in the south of France, such as Languedoc-Roussillon. Merlot, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have partially replaced the previously popular varieties of the south such as Carignan and Cinsault.
In the traditional Bordeaux blend, Merlot's role is to add body and softness. Despite accounting for 50-60% of overall plantings in Bordeaux, the grape tends to account for an average of 25% of the blends-especially in the Graves and Médoc. However, in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion Merlot commonly comprises the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus, is almost all Merlot.

Rest of Europe

In Italy, the Merlot grape is often blended with Sangiovese to give the wine a similar softening effect as the Bordeaux blends. The Strada del Merlot is a popular tourist route through Merlot wine countries along the Isonzo river.
In Hungary, Merlot complements Kékfrankos, Kékoportó and Kadarka as a component in Bull's Blood. It is also made into varietal wine known as Egri Médoc Noir which is noted for its balanced acid levels and sweet taste.
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