Spotlight on … Merlot

To follow up on my blog a couple of months ago about Pinot Noir, here’s another International Wine Day – this time the spotlight is on Merlot.

The 7th November is not only International Merlot Day, it’s also International Hug a Bear Day! Yes! I kid you not. So, as you’re savouring your glass of merlot, grab a bear (a teddy bear that is, not a real one) and give it a hug.

Enough of this frivolity – let’s look at a brief profile of Merlot.

What’s in a name?

It’s thought that the name is from the French for the diminutive form of merle meaning blackbird – hence merlot, little blackbird. But there again, it may have something to do with the colour of the grapes – or the fact that the pesky blackbirds kept pinching them.

Who am I?

Through DNA testing in the late 1990s it was established that Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, an old, obscure variety.

Merlot – aka….

The name Merlot is pretty much recognised worldwide – but there are a few aliases: for example, head to Romania and you might find it called Bigney Rouge or Plant Medoc; or in Bosnia and Herzegovina you’ll come across it as Merlaut Noir or Vitraille.

Cold or Hot?

The spiritual home of Merlot is the French region of Bordeaux and it grows well in other cooler climates such as Italy and Chile. But it’s a versatile little chap and has happily found its way to some of the warmer regions of the grape-growing latitudes such as Australia, California, and South Africa.

That’s a lot of Merlot!

According to the most recent data, Merlot is the second most planted variety of grape (after Cabernet Sauvignon) worldwide, totalling some 657,300 acres (266,000 hectares) across 37 countries. In France it accounts for 276,758 acres (112,000 hectares), almost 14 percent of the national vineyard area.

Best as a blend?

Although Merlot is one of the grapes, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, which constitutes the classic Bordeaux blend, it can stand on its own as a single varietal wine – check out some from The Wine Shed.

How much?!

Wines made from Merlot are very affordable – unless you covet a bottle of Petrus from Bordeaux. In 2011 a case of 1961 Petrus was sold at auction by Christie’s in New York. It fetched a staggering £100,800 – that’s £8,400 a bottle! Even a bottle of Petrus 2020 vintage will set you back a cool £4,360 a bottle. I think I’ll stick to a much more modestly priced Merlot from The Wine Shed.

I’m getting a hint of strawberry ….

Merlot can have quite a range of flavours depending on where it’s grown and when it’s harvested. Cooler climates or just-ripe berries produce red fruit flavours with herbaceous notes like green pepper. Warmer climates and riper berries will produce intense black fruit flavours like jammy blackberry. The give-away flavour, though, is plums – tart red or concentrated black, if you can taste plums then you’ve probably got a Merlot.

White Merlot?

If you’ve heard of, and like, white Zinfandel (which isn’t actually white at all, it’s rosé or blush coloured, due to exposure to the black grape skins for a short time before fermentation) then you might find white Merlot an interesting alternative.

Nom Nom!

Most Merlot wines have medium levels of tannin, acidity, and alcohol so when it comes to food, it pairs well with red meats, as well as pork, turkey, and root vegetables (a good choice for the festive season, perhaps?)

Fancy some cheese? Try it with gouda, gorgonzola, brie, Jarlsberg or parmesan.

If you would like to savour an affordable Merlot, why not indulge in this month’s Wine of the Month from The Wine Shed.

By Maureen Little