A Grape Highlight: Merlot
Merlot is an understated powerhouse of grapes. Before my research I thought Merlot was a mediocre grape that did not need much looking into. I was wrong, this grape has given us the most famous and expensive of wines. As the 3rd most planted grape and making up 60% of one of the most famous wine regions in the world, I have come to realize Merlot is the mother of all grapes. Yaas Queen!
Unfortunately, she has a reputation that has mimicked the highs and lows of the temperature diurnals that give her, her flavor. But this was to no fault of her own. In the early 1990's , Americans were actively making those heart disease statistics climb. But why? Europeans did not seem to have this problem, what was the difference? The difference we inferred was WINE!
The French drink red wine ubiquitously and did not appear to have heart disease issues in their country. This caused the French Paradox to ensue; doctors prescribed red wine with dinner to get their patients heart healthy. My kind of prescription.
To keep up with the trend and the free medical publicity, American wine growers planted a little too much Merlot. Ultimately causing over cropping and the quality of the wine to suffer. In the early 2000's, consumer's apprehension of the hyper-produced varietal was validated in the movie Sideways, when the character Miles emphatically rejects Merlot. Ultimately, his disdain for Merlot influenced the grape's fall from popularity and it was quickly replaced by Pinot Noir.
But Merlot never really left. It is a grape frequently used in blending to mellow out the harsh tannin and acidity caused by other grapes. From Super Tuscan wines in Italy, to Meritage Blends in the US, Merlot increases the drink-ability in a wide variety of wines. But, Merlot is not just a blending grape. Merlot is the Matriarch of the Right Bank of Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc merely as supporting players in the phenomenal red blend.
You can also find single varietal Merlot wines that are smooth and delicious. The wine is medium in tannin and acidity, which makes it great for everyday enjoyment. It is the perfect gateway wine for folks who do not want to choke down a tongue punching Cab Sauv.
Because Merlot can grow just about anywhere, you will find that each have different tasting profiles based off of where they are from. If you are looking at wines from the Right Bank of Bordeaux, you will find notes of cherry, leather and cedar. These taste profiles are reminiscent of a Sangiovese. Where as Washington Merlot will be sweet (higher in alcohol), light bodied and have minty flavors. Then there is Merlot from the North Coast of California which present more like a Syrah with notes of cherry, plum, and chocolate notes.
Merlot creates a phenomenal wine and like myself, I hope you have a new found appreciation for this queen of a grape. With so many wine varietals and styles out there is it easy to forget about the foundation Merlot provides. I plan to take my taste buds on a trip around the world with Merlot this month and I would love recommendations. Who makes your favorite Merlot? Where does your favorite Merlot come from? When was the last time you had Merlot?