Merlot, a dark colored wine grape variety used for varietal and blended wines. It is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine and widely planted in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is a very popular grape to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon which is much higher in tannins.
Merlot is made in two main styles or types of wine. The traditional Bordeaux style which involves earlier harvesting of the grapes to maintain acidity. This in turn makes for a much more medium bodied wine with red fruit flavors and vegetal notes. The alcohol content is moderate.
The second style is much more international and tend to favor late harvesting that promotes a more purple colored wine which is full-bodied with a higher alcohol contend. Tannins are softer and velvety with intense blackberry and plum fruit flavors.
Relationship to other grapes
Merlot was found to be an offspring of Cabernet Franc and a half-sibling to Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
Merlot can be identified by the loose bunches of large berries. The berries have a thin skin and fewer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, it also has a higher sugar content than Cabernet. The grape thrives in cold soil but the early budding can be risky to cold frost in some areas.
The vine is susceptible to downy mildew but less so to powdery mildew. Merlot thrive in well-drained soil and will do better on a slope than at the foot. Pruning is a very important part of the quality of the wine and some winemakers will reduce the yield for better quality. The Merlot grape can quickly over-ripen, sometimes within a few days.
Merlot makes soft plummy wines as a varietal and will mature faster than a Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot comes in three styles; a highly tannic style similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, fruity with a tannic structure, and a smooth fruity wine with little tannins.
White Merlot is made by crushing the grape and after a very short period, the light pink juice is run off and fermented. White Merlot must not be confused with the white mutant variety of the grape, nor with Merlot blanc (cross between Merlot and Folle blanche)
Because of the diversity of Merlot, it may be easier to start with the food it does not pair well with. Spicy food can make Merlot taste more tannic and bitter because the capsaicin in the food will tend to accentuate the perception of alcohol. Strong cheeses and the blue-veined variety tend to overwhelm the fruit flavors of the wine.
The stronger, bolder Merlots go well with grilled meats while the softer, fruitier ones will pair well with dishes like salmon and greens. The light-bodied Merlots compliment shell fish specially if accompanied by bacon or prosciutto ham.