Tomorrow just so happens to be Merlot day and to celebrate, Patrick and I thought the obvious- why not crack open a few Merlots! The history of Merlot starts between 1600-1700 in Bordeaux. Merlot is now one of the most popular red wine varieties (by sheer acreage) in the world, rivalled only by its companion, Cabernet Sauvignon. (Fun Fact: both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are offspring of Cabernet Franc! Perhaps this is why they taste and smell quite similar.)
Merlot is a grape that fully ripens in cooler and warmer climates, favoured by viticulturists for its high-yeilding harvests. Merlot is grown all over the world- France, California, Washington State, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Switzerland, Italy- the list goes on and on! Where the wine is grown will greatly affect the flavours. For instance, Merlot from Bordeaux has more savoury characteristics (thanks to its old world charm) than Merlot from California.
Cooler climate regions like Washington State and Bordeaux produce wines with higher acidity and more subtle fruit flavours. They also tend to taste more savoury rather than fruity. Cooler climate wines are also more structured with a higher presence of tannins and earthy flavours. Because of these characteristics, cooler climate Merlots are often mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon. Warmer regions such as Australia and California, produce wines with more body and bolder fruit flavours. These wines also tend to have increased alcohol content and taste inherently “sweeter” (I put that in quotations because Merlot is hardly ever classified as sweet. All the ones we are tasting tomorrow will be dry). Vintners working with Merlot in warmer climates typically like to subject their wine to oak-ageing to give it more structure.
Thanks to some clever marketing and public relations campaigns from a few Cabernet Sauvignon advocates, Merlot has taken a back seat for many years and is often dismissed as a reliable blending variety. Unfortunately, cheap, commercial Merlot also did not help to appease its reputation. Please do not put Merlot into this box and keep it there. Merlot can certainly stand on its own. Tomorrow we will be trying Merlot from Bordeaux (of course because it is the motherland), California, Chile and Washington State.
What can you expect? Certainly a wine that tastes amazing with a range of dishes, and, that is powerful enough to cut through steak, stews, duck, and pasta. Also expect to try a variety of different flavours and textures, from structured to plush, from fruity to savoury. Patrick and I will see you tomorrow!