Merlot is a popular red wine – so popular, indeed, that an annual celebration is dedicated to it in the form of International Merlot Day, on 7th November. The Merlot grape is the most widely planted varietal in France where it is often used in blends – commonly alongside Cabernet Sauvignon – with the Bordeaux wines of the Pomerol or Saint Emilion appellations being a prime example. In Italy, it is cultivated in the Veneto, Friuli and Tuscany, tending to present fresher flavours in the case of the Northern varieties, whereas Tuscan Merlot is generally used to produce the so-called Super Tuscans. These latter wines represent another Cabernet-Merlot blend, this time generally complementing the local Sangiovese grape. Of course, Merlot’s success has spread overseas, where it fares well in California, Chile, Argentina and Australia in particular. New World Merlots present a fruitier taste profile to their more structured and earthier European counterparts, notably due to the fact that in France and Italy for example, Merlot grapes ripen early, whereas further afield they stay on the vine for longer.
So let’s dive a little deeper into the tasting notes for Merlot wines. What can you expect when you raise a glass of this supple and velvety red? Merlot from cooler climates tends to present a bejewelled, garnet hue, with initial aromas of slightly acidic berry fruits, and perhaps some bay or mint, along with liquorice and forest-y notes. This is a medium-bodied wine, with good acidity and minerality, often mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon in blind tastings. Merlot from warmer climates on the other hand is generally a deeper ruby red, with plummy and more floral notes. A hint of sweet baking aromas such as cinnamon and vanilla is often detectable, along with chocolate or coffee, making for a softer and rounder drinking experience.
Here at Tannico we bring you a hand-picked selection of both single varietal Merlots and wines in which Merlot is used as part of a blend, from both large and well-established wineries to smaller, more niche finds. In Italy, for an entry-level single varietal, look no further than “Bosco Levada” from the Veneto IGT, or to sample Merlot as part of a Tuscan blend, how about “Le Volte dell’Ornellaia” from the Toscana IGT? When it comes to France, you can’t go wrong with a classic St Emilion – try Château Jacques Blanc’s “Grand Cru Classé 2015”, or Château Mangot’s “Distique No. 8 2015” for example.
It may come as a surprise to learn that this grape is also used to produce rosé Merlot wines. Try the organic Rosso Verona IGT "Fresco di Masi" 2021, from the Masi winery in Verona, which blends Merlot with Corvina grapes to produce an easy-drinking wine that is relatively low in alcohol at 11.5%, perfect for summer picnics in the garden! Which foods match well with Merlot? Merlot is an incredibly versatile and adaptable grape, pairing with a wide range of foods depending on the style and price point of the bottle in hand. Mid-week, easy-drinking varieties are a great match for burgers, pizzas and chicken recipes; full-bodied warm climate Merlots are the ideal partner for richer foods such as roast red meat or nourishing bean stews; and a classic European Merlot would be at home with earthier flavours such as game or mushrooms.
Take some time to get to know this ever-popular grape – with Merlot, there really is something for everyone!
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