What Is Merlot?

photo credit: Precept Wine Brands

When it comes to learning about wine, newcomers often are confused about the different types of wine and how to distinguish them from one another. Not to worry though, your pallet will adjust over time and you will eventually be able to tell a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon without any problems; but in the meantime, let’s look at Merlot and discuss its properties.

What is Merlot?

Like most New World wines that you find in the market, wines labeled Merlot are made from Merlot grapes. The same with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay and so on. These grapes aren’t like the kind you find in a grocery store either; they are specifically for wine making purposes.

At first sip Merlots can be very much like Cabernets, and even more like Malbecs. It would be very hard for a beginner wine drinker to distinguish the three. However, taking the time to weigh the wines in your mouth during a wine tasting you will notice distinct characteristics in each. Merlot wine tends to be mouth filling, but with fruiter flavors than a tannin-heavy Cabernet. Cabs can be mouth filling too and typically are considered great big reds, but Merlot wines are softer, with more noticeable fruit.

If you had to describe Merlot red wine to anyone, you could say it is a medium body red that is easy to drink and perfect for someone who is just starting out. The fruit forwardness goes down gently without being bitter, which is what most people new to wine often complain of. Of all red wine, Merlot is best suited for someone with a novice pallet.

What it means to be fruit forward is you can really taste the fruit flavors of the wine. Merlot can be reminiscent of blueberry, dark cherry and most dark berry flavors. Sometimes you can get vanilla flavors and heavier Merlot wines will give off flavors of cigar box, cedar and other characteristics attributed to Cabernets. It really depends on where the wine is grown and what wine making practices were used that will determine the body of Merlot wine. This is called terroir.

Merlot grape vines in areas like France and other European vineyards will produce berries that make lighter bodied wines, whereas the Merlot grape of an area like California or Australia will produce heartier wines. This is because of the terrain mostly. In France, in areas where the Merlot grape flourishes, the soil is clay, the climate is cold and the Merlot grape juice is used as a blend with Cabernet to make Bordeaux. It’s very rare that it is used as a standalone grape in areas where it is predominantly grown. The Vin de Pays d’Oc region does make standalone Merlot red varietal, however. In California, the soils are rich, the temperature optimal and so the grapes are robust and can produce some powerful wines.

Merlot color is another factor determined by terroir. The berries never really achieve as deep a color as Cabernet no matter where they are grown, but they still can be quite dark. Typically, you’ll get a nice medium dark red wine that has a slight purple tinge in areas where the clime is superior. If you hold a glass of both Cab and Merlot up to a light you will see the difference in color. It’s a little harder to distinguish this by comparing bottles. In other areas the Merlot will be medium to light red, almost brick colored.

The best way to discover a Merlot that you like is to attend a couple free wine tastings. This will let you experience several wines from around the world so that you can discover your pallet and find what you like best. Not every one likes Merlot. It had a rally in the 90′s until the movie, Sideways came out in 2004, when Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, refused to drink Merlot on any occasion. This all but crushed Merlot’s popularity and sales plummeted as the juice was seen as less than sophisticated for any wine drinker. But don’t underestimate this grape. Some Merlots can stand up as powerhouses next to any of the bold varietals that experienced wine drinker tout as kings.

If you have any more questions about Merlot, please leave a comment below.

Be Sociable, Share!

No related articles.

Speak Your Mind