We’re sure many of the wine lovers out there have seen the movie Sideways, a film dedicated it seems to the hatred of merlot. It’s a great shame, although a fun film to watch. Merlot deserves far more attention though, for all the right reasons. Merlot is one of the great red grapes of the world and not only has the ability for immediate appeal; it can evolve in your cellar gracefully for years.
For decades we have been told time and time again that Merlot is the easy drinking red. If you don’t like the firm tannins and bright acidity of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, then Merlot is for you. This doesn’t do many favours for the Merlot grape, as its reputation becomes inferior and we make it out to be less impressive than what it actually is. In celebration of International Merlot Day this November, here are 10 things to know about magnificent Merlot which may help to return this grape to its position among the royal circle of reds.
Helpful hints about Merlot
1. Merlot is one of the five main red grapes from Bordeaux, the home of some of the greatest red wines of the world.
2. In Bordeaux, Merlot is the most used grape variety.
3. Merlot should have great structure. That means Merlot shouldn’t be a simple light and fruity wine. According to its DNA it should be deep in colour with great tannins and acid that allows it to age gracefully in your cellar.
4. Merlot is an early ripening grape, often the first to ripen in the great vineyards of Bordeaux. This ability to be ripe before bad weather may set in may also be why so much of this grape is used in the Bordeaux appellation.
5. Cabernet Merlot is not one grape variety, but two - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Wineries are not forced to use the whole name of the Cabernet grape though.
6. Arguably the greatest Merlot wine in the world is Chateau Petrus.
7. It’s not just the Bordelais that like Merlot, it is the most planted red grape in all of France.
Wine Nerd Trivia about Merlot*
8. Merlot is thought to be named after the Occitan word for Black Bird, Merlau, as the black birds liked to eat the grapes as they ripened.
9. Merlot is the child of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes.
10. Some synonyms for Merlot are Semillon Rouge and Medoc Noir, among others.
Local Merlot Heroes
To continue some study on all things Merlot and extend your knowledge, you should also find some local heroes.
Katnook Estate Merlot from Coonawarra shows terrific intensity and richness. It has the hallmark plummy features of classic Merlot and lovely baking spice from time in oak. It’s has structure in a young wine making it a lovely pairing for a simple roast lamb. As this wine ages it becomes more complex, giving and layered - utterly delicious.
Leconfield Merlot is again from Coonawarra. It is region known for making great Cabernet Sauvignon and as these two great grapes share similarities, when you find good Cabernet growing country you can expect to make delicious Merlot. The Leconfield is more elegant, finer boned, but no less powerful. A lovely savoury wine with intense dark fruits and destined to age.
If you want to delve into the world of Pomerol and get a feeling for the French expression of Merlot try Chateau Moulinet Lasserre Pomerol. Firstly, it is unusual for a Bordeaux wine to be 100% Merlot, or any of the red grapes that is. This is a blend with 70% Merlot and Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The greatness of Bordeuax is in its blends. The Moulinet Lasserre is deep and charry; the fruit expression is more subdued than the Australian counterparts and the tannin and acid more forward. It needs food to show its true measure and also a good 5 more years in the cellar.
Happy Merlot day!
* Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz, 2012, Wine Grapes, Edition 1, Allen Lane