If ever a grape variety has found another identity as a total individual, then it has to be Merlot! Always blended with its true partner and best friend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has been best known world-wide as playing the support role of this double act that creates the great classified wines of Bordeaux. Now Merlot is the star of its own show outside of its French ancestral home and in the ‘New World’ of wine!
The Style Of Merlot
It is not the first time of course that Merlot has starred in its own show, the great wines of the right bank of Bordeaux, Pomerol and St Emilion rely very much on Merlot in providing the greater percentage of their most individual style. In fact the most famous wine of all from the area of Pomerol and its undisputed ‘Grand Cru’ - Chateau Petrus is 95% Merlot with only 5% Cabernet Franc. This most expensive of Bordeaux wines therefore stands testimony to the quality of Merlot as a classic grape variety.
California, in terms of relative wine history, is Merlot’s newfound stage and this journey to success began in the early the 1980’s when the tendency was to produce quite aggressive, high tannin wines. This mood changed in the latter 80’s when the style was to create a more gentle and mellow wine with a much softer character. This trend started a massive planting mania in California and the planting of Merlot vineyards quadrupled. This trend has been maintained and now Merlot is firmly established as the most important red grape variety of all. The wine makers of Washington State also came to realise that their climate is ideal as a comfortable home for Merlot, producing the full of fruit softer styles that appeal to a wine selection of ‘new red wine drinkers’.
Other countries such as Chile and Argentina are beginning to find their way with Merlot as a single grape variety with the wine regions such as Australia and New Zealand still using Merlot as a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Did you know..."Merlot also makes a white wine or ‘blush’ style. The wine tastes of freshly
Merlot is an early ripening grape so can be harvested before any potential adverse changes in the weather. This makes a reliable crop of good quality grapes far more possible. When blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is regarded as the softer influence with lighter tannins. In fact a Claret [Bordeaux red wine] which has a 30% make up of Merlot, then the wine will be more lighter in colour, also reducing the slight harshness of a Cabernet Sauvignon wine by providing more fruit flavours.
How to find the best Merlot
What to look for in a typical good quality Merlot Wine:
On the Eye: Can be the colour of crushed cherries for younger wines moving through to deep plum red for older wines.
On the Nose: At its ripest Merlot can display lots of aromas of soft purple fruits such as plums, cherries and blackberries with sometimes a vegetal nose of asparagus or fresh green beans. When matured in oak the wine will take on a rich texture of melted caramel and chocolate.
On the Palate: Can be sometimes quite light with a vanilla taste from oak fermenting, moving through to big intense flavours of strawberry and blackberry fruits.
Matching Merlot with Food
My favourite here would be any lamb dish, roasted leg or shoulder with fresh rosemary; rack of lamb with a red currant jelly and juniper berry sauce; lamb cutlets lightly grilled with parsley butter; or even a ‘Moroccan style lamb Tagine’. All will make great ‘bed-fellows’ with any well produced Merlot wine. Experiment and have fun!
Alan Hunter AIWS,