This article is about the Merlot wine grape.
Merlot grapes on the vine.
Merlot is a red wine grape that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. Merlot-based wines usually have medium body with hints of berry, plum, and currant. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot an ideal grape to blend with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the most popular red wine varietals in the United States and Chile.
Origins and genetics
The earliest recorded mention of Merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais region as one of the area's best. The name comes from the French regional patois word "merlot", which means "young blackbird" ("merle" is the French word for several kinds of thrushes, including blackbirds); the naming came either because of the grape's beautiful dark-blue color, or due to blackbirds' fondness for grapes. By the 19th century it was being regularly planted in the Médoc on the Right Bank of the Gironde.
It was first recorded in Italy around Venice under the synonym Bordò in 1855. The grape was introduced to the Swiss, from Bordeaux, sometime in the 19th century and was recorded in the Swiss canton of Ticino between 1905 and 1910.
Researchers at University of California, Davis believe that the grape is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carmenere.
Until 1993, the Chilean wine industry mistakenly sold a large quantity of wine made from the Carmenere grape as Merlot. In that year, genetic studies discovered that much of what had been grown as Merlot was actually Carmenere, an old French variety that had gone largely extinct in France due to its poor resistance to phylloxera, which as of 2006 does not exist in Chile.
The labeling Chilean Merlot is a catch-all to include wine that is made from a blend of indiscriminate amounts of Merlot and Carmenere. With Merlot ripening 3 weeks earlier then Carmenere, these wines differ greatly in quality depending on harvesting.
After a series of setbacks that includes a severe frost in 1956 and several vintages in the 1960's lost to rot, French authorities in Bordeaux banned new plantings of Merlot vines between 1970 and 1975.
In Merlot early history with California wine, the grape was used primarily as a 100% varietal wine until wine maker Warren Winiarski encouraged taking the grape back to its blending roots with Bordeaux style blends.
Merlot is produced primarily in France (where it is the third most planted red grape), Italy (where it is the country's 5th most planted grape) and California, Romania and on a lesser scale in Australia, Argentina, Canada's Niagara Peninsula, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, and other parts of the United States such as Washington State and Long Island. It grows in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon but tends to be cultivated in the cooler portions of those areas. In areas that are too warm, Merlot will ripen too early.
In the traditional Bordeaux blend, Merlot's role is to add body and softness. Despite accounting for 50-60% of overall plantings in Bordeaux, the grape tends to account for an average of 25% of the blends-especially in the Graves and Médoc. However, in the regions of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion it is not unusual for Merlot to comprise the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus, is almost all Merlot.
In Italy, the Merlot grape is often blended with Sangiovese to give the wine a similar softening effect as the Bordeaux blends. The Strada del Merlot is a popular tourist route through Merlot wine countries along the Isonzo river.
In Hungary, Merlot complements Kékfrankos, Kékoportó and Kadarka as a component in Bull's Blood. It is also made into varietal wine known as Egri Médoc Noir which is noted for its balanced acid levels and sweet taste.
Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. The color has less of a blue/black hue than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and with a thinner skin, the grapes also have fewer tannins. Also compared to Cabernet, a Merlot grape tends to have higher sugar content and lower malic acid.
Merlot thrives in cold soil, particularly ferrous clay. The vine tends to bud early which gives it some risk to cold frost and its thin skin increases its susceptibility to rot. It normally ripens up to two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Water stress is important to the vine with it thriving in well drained soil more so than at base of a slope.
The vine is susceptible to over cropping, and pruning is a major component to the quality of the wine that is produced. Wine consultant Michel Rolland is a major proponent for reducing the yields of Merlot grapes to improve quality. The age of the vine is also important, with older vines contributing character to the resulting wine.
A characteristic of the Merlot grape is the propensity to quickly over ripen once it hits its initial ripeness level, sometimes in a matter of a few days. There are two schools of thought on the right time to harvest Merlot. The wine makers of Château Pétrus favor early picking to best maintain the wine's acidity and finesse as well as its potential for aging. Others, such as Rolland, favor late picking and the added fruit body that comes with a little bit of over-ripeness.
White Merlot is made the same way as its more famous cousin, White Zinfandel. The grapes are crushed, and after very brief or even no skin contact, the resulting pink must ferments. Some producers of White Merlot include Sutter Home, Forest Glen, and Beringer. It normally has a hint of raspberry. White Merlot was reputedly first marketed in the late 1990s.
In Switzerland, a type of White Merlot is made but is often considered more a rosé.
In popular culture
Merlot was mocked by a main character in the film Sideways who encouraged people to drink Pinot Noir instead, which may have played a role in a concurrent slowing of Merlot sales
Article courtesy of wikipedia.