A member of the Bordeaux family, Merlot,
in contrast to Cabernet Sauvignon, is soft, fruity, fleshy, and less
tannic. It's the principal grape variety in the wines of St Emilion and
Pomerol, and is often blended with Cabernet Franc. These Bordeaux wines
are much more accessible when young, but they invariably age quickly,
creating a supple, smooth, and velvety texture. Meriot is the most
planted grape variety in Bordeaux.
Its characteristics tend to lean towards
plum, blackberry, fruitcake and currently tones. In cooler climates,
such as Northern Italy, grassy notes are evident. Due to its softness
and moderate tannins, Meriot, which has a natural affinity with oak, is
often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
A grape which thrives on clay and
limestone-based soils, it is all the rage in California and Chile, where
rich, even chocolaty Merlots are made. The dense Merlots of California
can be extremely good and again can provide perfect blending material
for Cabernet as seen in the Mondavi-Rothschild icon wine, Opus One.
The relatively cool climate of New Zealand
enables Merlot, in good vintages, to obtain excellent balance between
fruit and acidity. In contrast, Australia's warmer vineyards are not
necessarily ideal, as acidity can sometimes be found wanting, making
'cooler' Coonawarra and Western Australia more favorable locations.
Merlot grapes can be found in Bordeaux (St
Emilion and Pomerol), Australia, Chile, Southern France, New Zealand,
South Africa, California and Washington State.