Merlot is a very well known grape in the wine world and this is largely due to its role as a key blending buddy in wines from Bordeaux in France. However, the reputation that it has gained for producing some of the most prestigious and expensive wines on the planet (such as Margaux and Paulliac), arguably has overshadowed its use elsewhere. In this article, we demonstrate that Merlot is more than just a great blending partner and that it also has a really important role in its own right.
Merlot is one of the three key grapes along with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon used to make the world famous and highly sought after wines from Bordeaux. Merlot’s role is vitally important as it is used to soften and balance the, sometimes, harsh properties of the other two grapes. The degree to which the Merlot is used varies according to the location in which it is grown. However, Merlot is typically the dominant grape in wines from the right bank of Bordeaux, east of the
Gironde and Dordogne rivers.
But it is not just Bordeaux where Merlot’s talents are evident. Following in the footsteps of the French, winemakers from a number of other countries, particularly those in the New World, have been experimenting with Bordeaux alternatives more recently and to great success. Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Australia and California have all been producing Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blends and often at a fraction of the price of their Bordeaux counterparts.
While it might be its favourite blending buddy, Merlot is not always used with Cabernet Sauvignon however. In Italy, Merlot is sometimes used to blend with Sangiovese to make a tasty alternative to a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend, while in Hungary it is used to blend with three Hungarian grapes to make “Bull’s Blood”. It may not sound very appealing but is actually one of Hungary’s most famous wines.
Despite Merlot’s great blending properties, the grape shouldn’t be overlooked in its own right. Merlot, when bottled solo, displays some wonderfully soft cherry and plum tones, with delicious, sometimes, chocolaty hints. Often winemakers like to age Merlot in oak, to give it more depth and this adds flavours of smoke and wood to the wine. Merlot is a relatively light bodied wine when produced on its own, although when grown in warmer climates the flavours maybe darker and deeper. Merlot is a great wine to drink on its own or on a summer’s afternoon as it won’t normally be overpowering like some of the more tannic red wines, such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. It can also be a good food wine, with lighter versions matching well with lighter dishes such as pasta and pizza and heavier versions going well with richer and meat based dishes.
New World countries including Australia, Chile and Argentina are good places to look if you fancy tasting Merlot in its own right – you will generally get a good value, great tasting wine with lots of depth and character. But don’t forget to look to France, Spain and Italy too. Merlot from these countries are generally subtler, but still with lots of great taste.
Merlot is loved by winemakers and winedrinkers alike and hopefully this article has demonstrated that, although Merlot will probably always be most well known for its blending abilities, it is a great little number when produced on its own.
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Louise Truswell works in the wine industry. She has been writing about wine for couple of years and is particularly interesting in helping enthusiasts enjoy wine including grapes such as Merlot. To find out more and to choose from a range of bottles of Merlot and Merlot blends, visit virginwines.com/wine-zone/merlot.
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