What is Merlot and where is it found?
Merlot is a red wine grape originally from Bordeaux, and from the early 19th century is started to be used in wines from that region. Its fame spread, and Merlot is now grown in close to 40 countries across the world covering a total of over 270,000 hectares.
In Spain, there are about 12,000 hectares of Merlot, mostly in Castilla La Mancha, Catalunya, Aragon and Navarra. Merlot suffered a bad reputation in the 1980s. Its low level of tannin and soft texture made it a very easy-drinking wine which appealed to a mass audience. To meet the burgeoning demand it began to be planted all over the place, often in unsuitable places, leading to lots of low quality wines lacking in complexity. Inevitably there was a backlash and Merlot’s popularity waned.
Merlot’s main characteristics
Merlot is an early budding, early maturing grape variety which can make it vulnerable in hotter climates where grapes risk ripening too quickly, giving jammy flavours in the final wine. It has moderate tannins and acidity which means it tends to give quite plump, juicy and rounded wines, which makes it the ideal blending partner for the more austere and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, which helps add structure.
What does Merlot taste like?
Merlot’s has a inviting soft texture and mellow smoothness, with a plummy sort of flavour with fruitcake-like nuances. In cooler climates, like Cabernet Sauvignon it can exhibit slightly grassier, green pepper-like notes, while as it ripens blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, or chocolate and spice-like characteristics can begin to emerge.
Where can I try some Merlot?
Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux remains Merlot’s home base, but you can still try some fine examples here in Spain. Look out for single varietal wines from wineries like Viñas del Vero in DO Somontano, or Can Ràfols dels Caus in DO Penedès.