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Merlot is most well known as one of the key red grapes used to make Bordeaux but it's also a pretty fine grape when used on its own. Give it a try if you are after something soft and easy to drink.
Merlot is the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux, where it is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It has made its name as the dominant grape variety on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, East of the Gironde and Dordogne rivers, in Saint Emilion and Pomerol for example. However, more recently, Merlot has enjoyed great success in the New World.
Merlot makes a deliciously soft and easy to drink wine when produced in its own right but it is also the perfect partner when blended, helping to soften other grapes, most usually Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz.
Merlot has as much character as its blending partner Cabernet Sauvignon but it is a lot more fragile. Its thin skins make it prone to rotting and it can be susceptible to spring weather changes, such as frost or heat waves. However, when grown well, Merlot produces a delightfully plump and soft berry, which gives subtle cherry and plum tones. Merlot generally has a similar taste profile to Cabernet Sauvignon but is less “pumped up” and tannic. Merlot takes well to aging in oak giving it a smoky, sometimes even, chocolaty edge.
Lighter-bodied Merlot is a great wine for drinking on a summer's day or over lunch, as it won't be too overpowering for the afternoon ahead. Try lighter Merlots with lighter foods such as tomato-based pizza or pasta. It also makes a great pre-dinner drink on it's own. Heavier, more Cabernet-like Merlots are much better with red meats and richer dishes. For some reason, Merlot doesn't like blue cheese, or overly salty food. The salt seems to bring out the tannins and make the wine taste slightly metallic.
It's no surprise that you will come across some highly reputable, exceptional quality and expertly produced bottles of wine from Bordeaux. However, it is also no surprise that you will have pay for them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as there's always a place in life for a good treat, however, if it you are looking to be a little kinder to your pocket, Chile, Australia and California are currently great places to look for value alternatives.
Tempted? Why not stock up on a case of Merlot and discover it for yourself.