Getting to Know Merlot

Words: Karen Glanfield

I’ve always recommended Merlot as the ideal wine to acclimatise new consumers of red wine. Whether it’s a friend broadening her horizons from white wine, or my dad, leaving the beer and whisky world behind and getting into the wine arena, a Merlot is normally a good place to start. This month we’re getting to know Merlot and the classic Merlot grape that originated from the Bordeaux region of France.

In using a sporting analogy I would usually refer to a Merlot as a cricket player – a wine full of finesse, culture, etiquette, almost gentlemanly rather than some of the more robust characters that are apparent in other red grapes.

Owing to its soft and fruity character and “easy-drinking” status,  the grape has been crowned a favourite by many enthusiasts,  ensuring a  large following.

Get to know Merlot and the wine’s general characteristics like the red fruits, easy tannins and a soft finish. But there’s more to Merlot than being smooth. When thinking of other descriptions most commonly used to describe a Merlot – Christmas cake comes to mind – yum! A range of fresh flavours such as plums, cherries, blueberries and blackberries mixed with cocoa and black pepper tones often dominate this type of red wine. Merlot is popular as a companion to the very rowdy Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.

In a Bordeaux-style red blend where the Cabernet’s, which give the backbone, are softened or mellowed a little, the Merlot rounds-off the wine, allowing more structure and definition.

Cool climate Merlot is more structured with a higher presence of tannins and earthy flavours like tobacco and eucalyptus. Warm climate Merlot wine is more fruit-forward and tannin is less prevalent.

3 facts you should know if you’re getting to know Merlot

  • In South Africa, Merlot is the favourite red varietal and has become the largest selling red varietal wine with approximately 13% market share.
  • Merlot in Bordeaux is most famous on the right bank of the Gironde where it is a major component of many of the famous wines of Pomerol and Saint E’million.  The most famous of these wines is the rare, famous and expensive Chateau Petrus.
  • In the USA, Merlot was for a period of time the most fashionable of all red varieties where it was hailed for its soft, round and approachable tannin structure.

Want to increase your wine knowledge? Get to know  Red and White BlendsShiraz | Chardonnay | Chenin Blanc | Cabernet Sauvignon 

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