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 their 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. To celebrate International Merlot Day, we’re getting to know Merlot and the classic Merlot grape that originated from the Bordeaux region of France.

Most appreciate Merlot for its general characteristics like the red fruits, easy tannins and a soft finish, but there’s more to Merlot…

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. Most appreciate Merlot for its general characteristics like the red fruits, easy tannins and a soft finish, but there’s more to Merlot than being smooth.

When thinking of Merlot tasting notes, ‘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.

Owing to its soft and fruity character and easy-drinking status, the grape has been crowned a favourite by many enthusiasts…

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 slightly softened or mellowed a little, the Merlot rounds-off the wine, allowing more 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 the tannins are less prevalent. 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 – compared to some of the more robust characters that are apparent in other red grapes.


3 Interesting Facts About Merlot

  • In South Africa, Merlot is one of the most popular and largest selling red wine varietals.
  • 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) the most fashionable red wine, hailed for its soft, well-rounded and approachable tannin structure.

Want to expand your wine palate? Get to know Red & White Blends, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and these lesser-known varietals.

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