Merlot is a red grape used widely for creating varietal wine but it is often used as a blending grape in combination with other grapes such Cabernet Franc . Its name is said to be derived from the French word for blackbird “merle”, which was applied to this grape as it has a rich dark blue hue. Varietal wines created from this grape usually have medium body with higher concentration of tannins. Fruity flavor especially those of plums, cherries and blueberries are often found to dominate in Merlot wine.
Merlot is also one of the important components of Bordeaux wine and is the most planted grape in the region. As part of Bordeaux wine this grape can constitute anywhere from 80% to 15% of the blend. Merlot wine as a varietal has been a popular choice with consumers for over a decade. It still continues to be the favorite choice of most wine drinkers, especially beginners as it is softer with intense fruity flavor. In the continental United States, Merlot is grown both in states such as Washington and California in American Viniculture Areas such as Columbia Valley AVA. One good Merlot wine that originates from these AVAs is Seven Hills Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley.
Origin of Merlot Wine
Merlot is widely thought to be a descendant of the Cabernet Franc and closely related to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot wine was first recorded being used in Bordeaux region around 1784. During the 19th century these grapes were cultivated in many areas including the left bank of the Gironde. From here its cultivation spread to Italy in 1855 where it is known by the name “Bordo”. By the 19th century this grape had been cultivated in Switzerland and had spread to other areas of the world.
Regions Producing Merlot Wine
Merlot is grown in various regions of the world but France still dominates worldwide production of this grape. It is grown near Cabernet Sauvignon but it is often planted in cooler regions as too much of warmth results in it ripening faster.
- France: In this country Merlot is the most common variety of grape grown. While Merlot wine is often used to blend with other wine in France a famous example of an almost pure Merlot varietal in this country is Château Pétrus.
- Italy: Here this grape is grown in many areas and both Bordeaux wines and varietals are produced on a large scale. An important viniculture region here is Fruili. Notably Italian Merlot wine has a distinct herbal flavor.
- Hungary: In Hungary, Merlot is often made into a varietal wine named Egri Médoc Noir.
- United States: Here Merlot was used initially to produce 100% varietal wines. More recently it is blended with other wines in the production of Bordeaux wines. The cultivation of this grape variety has in fact helped make Washington state one of the biggest producers of wine in the United States. Popular varietals made from this grape are produced at Chateau Ste Michelle winery in Washington.
- New Zealand- Here Merlot is grown because it has been found to ripen better in the climate and have a notably less green flavor than Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Argentina: In this country several areas such as Tunpungato with its high alleviation, have been known to produce good Merlot grapes with great balance of tannin and acidity.
Preparation of Merlot Wine
Merlot grapes are transformed into wine using a number of methods. Most methods start off by making sure the grapes have sufficient sugar level and the acid and pH is balanced. The role of pH is very important during the preparation of this wine, because if the pH is too high the merlot grapes might have to be blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Franc.
Removing the stems from Merlot grapes is an important process because otherwise the wine will taste like stem tannin. After this the grapes should be fermented between 82° to 86° F this will ensure that the rich color from the skins is transferred to the wine and its gets a good flavor.
The second part of the fermentation process involves using malolactic culture which transforms malic acid to lactic acid and softens the wine. Skins have to be stirred into the fermenting wine several times every day to ensure that they remain wet. Yeast such Pasteur Red is then added to the fermenting mixture. Once the fermentation process is completed and the skins have settled, the wine is moved into oak barrels or treated with oak water obtained from soaking oak chips in water. Eggs white are then added as a “fining agent” so as to reduce the bitterness in the wine and the wine is bottled.
Food Pairing For Merlot Wine
Merlot pairs well with a variety of food, this is due to the variety that this wine has. Merlot wine that tastes more like Cabernet Franc goes well with grilled meat. While softer varieties with high acidity content such as those produced in northeastern Italy taste beautiful with salmon, mushrooms, and greens. Some strong varieties of blue cheese however, do not go well with Merlot wine as they tend to overwhelm its fruity flavor.