Merlot: The Velvety And Approachable Red Grape

A Brief History

Merlot, one of the most cultivated grape varieties in the world, finds its origins in the vineyards of Bordeaux, France. Its name derives from the French regional patois word “merlau,” referring to the blackbird, likely due to the grape’s dark, almost black color. The first written mention of Merlot dates back to the late 18th century in Bordeaux, though it has been cultivated for far longer.


Merlot is cherished for its adaptability to various climate conditions and its relatively easy cultivation. The grape bunches are large with high juice content, and the berries are medium-sized with thin skins. This results in wines that typically have lower tannin levels, making Merlot an approachable variety often appreciated by those newly venturing into the world of red wines.

Flavour Profile

Merlot is celebrated for its lush, velvety mouthfeel, often accompanied by flavours of ripe plum, black cherry, and blackberry, sometimes with hints of chocolate, mocha, vanilla, and clove as well as earthy, herbal, or floral nuances. Merlot tends to be medium to full-bodied with medium alcohol and soft tannins. The wine’s acidity levels can vary depending on the region, with cooler climate Merlots displaying a more pronounced acidity.

Different Styles of Wine

The style of Merlot can differ substantially depending on where it is grown and how it is made. In Bordeaux, particularly on the Right Bank in regions like Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, Merlot often dominates the blend and is known for its structured elegance and ageing potential. In contrast, warmer “New World” regions like California and Australia produce more fruit-forward, plush, and opulent Merlot wines.

Wine Making and Maturation Options

Merlot is a versatile grape when it comes to winemaking and maturation options. It can be made as a single varietal wine or used as a blending component, most commonly with Cabernet Sauvignon to add softness and lush fruit character. Aging in oak, often French, is common, which imparts additional complexity and can contribute flavours of vanilla, baking spices, and toast.

Important Regions

Merlot’s birthplace, Bordeaux, remains a significant region for this grape, specifically the appellations of Pomerol and Saint-Émilion. Outside of France, Merlot has also found considerable success in Italy’s Tuscany region, where it’s often made into a luxurious style of wine known as “Super Tuscan”. Other notable Merlot regions include California’s Napa Valley, Washington State in the US, and Chile, each offering a unique expression of the grape.

Food Pairing Suggestions

Merlot’s rich, fruity character and soft tannins make it highly versatile for food pairings. It pairs beautifully with red meats like beef and lamb, as well as poultry dishes, such as roast chicken or duck. The wine’s inherent fruitiness complements tomato-based sauces, while its earthy undertones can enhance the flavors of mushroom or herb-infused dishes. Merlot also pairs well with a variety of cheeses, particularly milder, creamy varieties.

In conclusion, Merlot’s velvety charm, approachability, and the diversity of styles it offers make it a beloved variety among wine enthusiasts. From the prestigious chateaux of Bordeaux to the sundrenched vineyards of California, Merlot continues to captivate with its plush fruit character and inviting softness, a true ode to the joy and comfort wine can bring.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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