Its history, its origins, its taste, how to pair it…
The word “Merlot” refers to both the wine and the grape variety from which it is produced. As far as the wine is concerned, it is one of the most popular reds in the world and is characterised by its smooth texture and approachable style. For this reason, it is often recommended to people who want to get started in the world of wine.
In this post we are going to answer the most frequently asked questions about this wine. We will tell you a little about its history and origins, its taste, the ideal temperature to serve it, the dishes to serve it with and some more curiosities.
Origin, History and Curiosities
The name “Merlot” appears for the first time in the 18th century in the French Libournais and it was already considered one of the most important varieties of the Bordeaux region. However, its origins date back to the 14th century, when this grape variety was still known as “Crabatut Noir”.
A wine named after a bird
It supposedly owes its name to the French word “merle”, which means “blackbird”, either because of the bluish colour of the birds’ plumage and/or their fondness for eating the prized grapes.
Until two decades ago, nothing was known about the ancestors of this variety. Only shortly before the turn of the millennium, in 1999, the Austrian scientist Ferdinand Regner found (by means of DNA analysis techniques) the father, the Cabernet Franc. Ten years later, Jean-Michel Boursiquot identified the mother, Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. For a long time the latter variety was considered extinct until by chance a single vine was rediscovered in 1992 (Saint-Suliac, Brittany). This kinship makes Merlot a sibling of Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
1956, the Annus Horribilis for Merlot
It was February 1956 when a heavy frost hit France, destroying many Merlot and Malbec vines. The misfortune did not end there and the many attempts to replant this vine in the following years were stopped by diseases and also by laws, when in 1970 the French government banned all new planting of Merlot vines. This ban lasted until 1975 when the vine was allowed to be cultivated again.
Sideways, the film that disdained Merlot
Those who have seen the film “Sideways” will not have missed the animosity that the main character, Miles, felt for this wine. This led to a debate that went on for some years about the influence of this anthological road movie on the reputation and sales of Merlot. Opinions could not be more diverse and among them we find that:
- It made Merlot famous “for being bad”.
- Encouraged people who had not been familiar with wine to get started in this world but through Pinot Noir.
- It did not influence the decline of Merlot at that time (2005) as it was more due to over-planting and the proliferation of bad wines on the market.
One can argue at length about the effect of the film, but what is beyond doubt is that while there is bad Merlot, there is also good Merlot and sublime Merlot, which have brought this wine back to life in recent years.
What is the colour of a Merlot wine?
Young wines are semi-opaque or opaque and usually have a deep ruby red colour. This colour is generally lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and deeper than Pinot Noir. In the glass a Merlot usually shows a brick/orange glow at the rim.
The colour of Merlot changes with age, losing pigmentation and brightness and turning garnet. Although not very common, Merlot is also used to produce rosé and white wines. In our case we produce the rosé “Passió”, with the grape varieties Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, Macabeo and Syrah.
What does Merlot taste like?
A dry and fruity wine, with harmony and body.
Merlot wines are dry wines and the characteristics common to all of them is the smooth, velvety and fruity finish. Other typical features of these wines are the soft but present tannins, the medium to full body, the medium to high alcohol content, the low to medium acidity and the red to dark colour.
“Merlot wines have a harmonious flavour that makes them highly appreciated”.
Their intense fruity aromas are reminiscent of black cherry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and plum. As with all wines, the factors that influence their characteristics include the time and manner of ageing as well as the respective origin of the grapes.
Thus, for example, ageing (especially in oak barrels) can enhance or bring out the notes of cocoa, chocolate, clove, vanilla and cedar.
In terms of origin, a northern Italian version, such as Merlot Veneto, tends to have a lighter flavour than the French Merlot Grand Sud. Its relatives from warmer regions such as Australia, France and California, on the other hand, have notes of liquorice and clove in addition to the typical elegant fruit aromas.
Winemaking: The many faces of Merlot
In addition to the criteria mentioned above, the taste of Merlot will depend on whether it is a single varietal, varietal or multi-varietal variety.
When matured in its pure variety, it has a full-bodied, supple, sometimes soft and sometimes almost oily taste. The most expensive Bordeaux in the world is a single varietal Merlot, the “Petrus” from the world famous French winery Château Pétrus. Whoever wants to buy this pure and exquisite Merlot masterpiece, should be prepared for prices between 600 and 3,000 euros per bottle.
Its organoleptic characteristics, as well as its richness of performance, make it a coveted component of multi-varietal wines. In these cases, it tends to soften the tannin, add a fruity note and support the companion varieties in the blend in fullness and body. Thanks to this adaptability, Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to red Merlot, there is also Merlot Blanc, a French white wine variety grown in small quantities in Bordeaux. It produces a smooth, berry-flavoured wine that is, however, much lighter and drier than its red relative.
Where is Merlot wine from? Cultivation and Production
In its country of origin, France, the largest cultivated area is found, with some 115,000 hectares, especially around Bordeaux. However, nowadays its production has spread from Europe to the rest of the continents (America, Africa, Asia and Oceania) as other sufficiently warm areas also offer good conditions for this vine.
In the top 5 producing countries we find, apart from France: Italy (28,000 hectares, mainly in the north of Italy), USA (22,000 hectares, mainly in California), Spain (15,500 hectares, mainly in Aragon, Catalonia, La Mancha and Navarre) and in fifth place Australia and Chile (both with 10,000 hectares each).
At what temperature should a Merlot wine be served?
Like all red wines, Merlot also has an ideal temperature range to be served. In the case of Merlot, this ideal temperature is between 15ºC and 18ºC. It is well known that temperature is one of the environmental factors that can greatly affect the taste of the wine. When temperatures are too high, the flavours are confused and if they are too low, the aromas and flavours are muted.
This ideal serving temperature range for Merlot can be achieved by placing it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving. If a bottle of Merlot is not finished, it can be kept for 2 to 4 days in the refrigerator corked. After this time, the wine will start to oxidise and can only be used for cooking.
Before serving a Merlot wine, it is also advisable to let it breathe (at least 20 minutes) and decant it. Both processes help to enhance the flavour of the wine.
What is Merlot wine drunk with? The best dishes for pairing
One of the reasons why people love Merlot is its versatility. In the market there is a great variety of styles and prices that allow to find the right wine for every occasion.
As a general rule and especially the lighter Merlot wines go well with discreet and light dishes such as chicken, turkey and pork. They even lend themselves to being served with pasta, burgers and pizza on weekdays. Fuller bodied, mature and often more alcoholic styles are able to stand up to more flavoursome foods such as beef, lamb and legume dishes.
Some pairing examples:
- Light Merlot: Bread, cured meats (pâté, salami, ham), vegetables (aubergines, peppers, courgettes), mushrooms, grilled chicken, pizza, tomato-based sauces, gratin dishes.
- Mature Merlot: Mild hard cheeses, stews and casseroles (with pulses, meat, vegetables), recipes made with spicy minced meat (bolognese, meatballs, meat pie), salmon, turkey spaghetti, spicy rice dishes. These recommendations would fit with our wine “Febrer” made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell.
- Elegant and varied Merlot: Roasted or grilled poultry (duck, chicken, turkey) and other meats such as lamb, veal and pork baked or grilled. In this type of wine, you can find our wine “Febrer Selecció” made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell.
Merlot, a fascinating wine
In short, Merlot is a wine that has had its moments of difficulty, like many others. Nevertheless, it produces delicious wines. Both the single-varietal and multi-varietal wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes from the Bordeaux region or Tuscany are smooth, complex reds with lovely flavours and aromas.