Merlot. What a great name for wine. It just flows off the tongue and makes you thirsty for more. A soft, fruity wine with a deep red color, it’s easy to drink by itself while easily pairing with a range of food.
Merlot is the second most planted grape, right behind Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, these two wines are practically tied at the vine together, given they are offspring of Cabernet Franc. These great wines are blended together to form the coveted Bordeaux wine from France.
Merlot is grown around the world and these are the top regions. In France and Italy, Merlot is made as a blend. California and Washington make Merlot as a single varietal and as Bordeaux style blends.
France: Bordeaux (Right Bank) (regions: St. Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac)
California: Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles
Washington: Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
The river that flows through Bordeaux splits the wine-growing regions into the Right Bank and Left Bank. Merlot is grown on the right bank where it thrives in clay soil. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the left bank, which is composed of mostly gravel soil. Keeping this in mind, Right Bank Bordeaux is a blend of Merlot (70-80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30-20%). Vice versa for the Left Bank Bordeaux, which is a blend of Cab (70-80%) and Merlot (30-20%). Of course, the blend usually includes a touch of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and maybe a few other choice reds as the winemakers see fit.
Keep this in mind when you see wine labeled as Right Bank Bordeaux or Left Bank Bordeaux. It is a clue as to which grape is predominant. You may also see labels of Left Bank Blend which is often used in California. Wine with a Left Bank Blend label will have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary grape in the wine and Merlot will be secondary.
Merlot is also a big player in Italian Super Tuscan wine. This again is a blended red wine that features Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and/or Syrah in varying percentages. Super Tuscan is actually the product of rebellious winemakers who didn’t want to be bound by the old Italian winemaking laws. Out of the rebellion was born a new Italian wine classification for these head-turning wines called Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
To really get a feel for Merlot and its popular blends, taste them side-by-side. If you use your local wine store, double-check that you’ve got a Bordeaux with Merlot as the predominant grape. That’s what the staff is there for. They’ll be happy to help and they’ll likely give you some great recommendations for your tasting.
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Link to these filtered pages for top Merlot regions on Wine.com.
FRANCE: RIGHT BANK BORDEAUX
CALIFORNIA: NAPA VALLEY
WASHINGTON: COLUMBIA VALLEY
Just follow these three steps to become familiar with Merlot and Merlot blends. Take notes and see if you agree with the following tasting profile.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Take note of the opacity levels. If you place your fingers between the glass and the napkin, how easily can you see them? These are all tells of what kind of wine you are drinking.
TASTING PROFILE: Deep ruby in color and medium opacity.
Let’s see how aromatic Merlot is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: This is not an aromatic grape. You’ll have to stick your nose in the glass to catch scents like red fruits (strawberry, plum) and black fruits (blackberry, plum).
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Red fruits (strawberry, red plum) and black fruits (blackberry, black plum
Acidity (tart, sour): Medium levels
Tannin (dry, bitter): Medium levels
Body (weight, mouthfeel): Light to Full body
Alcohol: 13.5-14.5% ABV
Oak: Merlot spends time aging in oak which gives hints of vanilla and toast.
EASY RATING SYSTEM
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me
LEARN MORE ABOUT
THE NOBLE GRAPES
Do a deeper exploration of these wines. Find out about the top regions and conduct a varietal specific tasting. For example, line up Pinot Noir from each of the top regions and compare.