For long considered the junior partner in the great Bordeaux duo of grape varieties, Merlot has achieved growing popularity in the last decade of the 20th century thanks to the cult worship of certain Merlot-based Pomerols and Saint Emilions in Bordeaux as well as a growing taste for its lusciously plummy and flavoursome early-drinking delights in countries such as Chile and California.
Image: Merlot, provided by German Wine Institute (left) and CIVB / Patrick Cronenberger (right)
With its soft texture, deliciously plummy fruit flavour and mellow tannins, Merlot is more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking to damp, cool, clay soils rather than the warmer gravels of the Médoc, plantings of the earlier-ripening, thinner-skinned Merlot outnumber those of Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and they are also growing extensively in the south of France. Merlot ripens earlier and more easily than Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its popularity in France and in northern Italy. It is widely planted in eastern Europe, but outside France, it is at its most serious in California, where it has become one of the 'hottest' varieties. It is also extensively grown in Chile, where it produces excellent value, supple-textured reds, and, increasingly in Australia and New Zealand.
What does it taste like?
bell pepper and blackcurrant
chocolate and spice-like characters
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