Merlot is a dark blue grape that flourishes in cool clay soils like those found in Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Owing to its colour, it’s thought to have received its name from a local blackbird named “Merle”. Merlot is usually the dominant grape in blends from famous places like Saint Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Across the globe, these two grapes are frequently cultivated together.
In terms of its popularity, Merlot is the most widely planted grape in France’s Bordeaux region and is close behind its “partner in wine” Cabernet Sauvignon in plantings around the globe. In Bordeaux’s Left Bank, it appears in blends where it adds fruit and body to Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure. It also thrives as a varietal wine either as a fruity, early-drinking, mass-produced style or high-end expression from the vineyards of Chile, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.
Around the world, Merlot is made in two main styles. In the warmer parts of New World wine regions, it’s produced in a full-bodied style with concentrated black fruit and plum plus silky tannins. Top-tier New World Merlots are often oak-aged, adding aromas and flavours of cedar, spice, and slightly sweet notes. The second style is characteristic of Bordeaux. Here, Merlot is leaner with more red fruit on the palate, high acidity, herbaceous tones, and medium tannins. Oak adds spicy notes and cedar.
Fun fact: Merlot is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and a little-known grape called Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. It’s also related to Carménère, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon.