Jan 10, 2023
This podcast is a refresher on Merlot (it’s been 12 years, so it’s time!). It’s one of the titans of the wine grapes, and yet it’s not often that we encounter it as a varietal wine. Because it is frequently blended, Merlot can often be forgotten or not given its due.
Photo: Merlot. Getty Images via Canva
But Merlot will not be forgotten! It is the second-most planted grape in the world, the most widely grown grape in Bordeaux, and its pedigree as part of some of the world’s most prestigious and well-known Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style wines makes it royalty in the wine world.
But Merlot is not without challenges. When it’s not grown on the proper soils or managed meticulously, wine made of Merlot bears little resemblance to great wines of Bordeaux or other regions that are famed for blends that use it. The reputation of Merlot as a boring, flabby, dull wine is not the fault of the grape, and although it was a convenient scapegoat, it’s also not the fault of the movie “Sideways.” The fact is that Merlot is not as easy to grow as people thought, and in 1980s and 1990s, opportunistic companies used high-yielding clones on bad rootstock and in bad sites to churn out high alcohol fruit bombs, lacking all the nuance that make the grape esteemed in its homeland.
This says nothing about the grape, but much about the people who defiled it. Although it is entirely capable of making boring, cheap wine, Merlot simultaneously makes up 95% of Château Petrus, Bordeaux’s most expensive wine and is used in fine wines all over the world for its ability to elevate a blend. In this show we pay homage to Merlot, and this time, shed some light on the recent past for Merlot and why, ultimately, it has done little to harm the grape’s reputation among winemakers and those who take the time to know the grape.
DNA and Parentage
We discuss the history of Merlot – from its first mention in Bordeaux, to its more modern history - its rise in the 1990s and its fall in the early 2000s in California, Australia, and the global consumer market.
Photo: Merlot. Getty Images via
In the Vineyard
Regions: the grape is planted everywhere! This is more or less a list…
Merlot is France’s most planted grape
Other Bordeaux: all Côtes de Bordeaux (I recommend Francs and Castillon), Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur AOPs
Southwest France: Bergerac where it is blended with Cabernets, Cahors where it is blended with Malbec
Languedoc and Loire grow Merlot
Italy: Merlot is the third most planted red in Italy and is made in a number of styles
Other Western/Central Europe:
Washington State: Excellent Merlot with strong acidity, dark color, and lots of interesting earthy, fruity flavor. The long growing season with cool nights lends the wine great structure. This is my top pick for US Merlot!
Napa: Producers usually dedicate the best soils and sites to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is an afterthought. Right now there is a bit of a shortage of Merlot because no one has focused on it but demand is increasing as styles have changed.
Other California: Monterey (bulk), Sonoma (Alexander Valley, some Sonoma Valley)
Photo: Merlot. Getty Images via Canva
Oregon (Rogue Valley), Virginia. Long Island (great stuff! Merlot is their best grape), Texas
Mexico, Canada (most prominent in BC for Bordeaux style blends)
Chile: Producers mistook Carménère for Merlot in the 1990s but they’ve slowly gotten back to real Merlot. Top areas: Colchagua (Apalta sub AVA), Maule, Curicó. I mention the famed wine writer
Argentina: Merlot is made in a ripe style, often blended in with other grapes
Australia: The grape is often used for blending with Cabernet, but had similar issues to California when demand rose in the 1990s – Merlot was overplanted in warm bulk areas like Murray Darling, Riverina, Riverland. Today, quality Margaret River and Western Australia.
New Zealand: Merlot is the second most planted after Pinot Noir. It does especially well in blends coming out of Hawke’s Bay. Merlot also does well in Auckland, Marlborough, and Martinborough
South Africa: Cooler sites in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek
Other places: Israel, Lebanon, India, Japan, China
Suggested food pairings
We end with a warning about serving temperature: NEVER SERVE MERLOT TOO WARM!! 60˚–65°F
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