Merlot is a dark blue–colored wine grape variety
, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal
wines. The name ''Merlot'' is thought to be a diminutive
of ''merle'', the French
name for the blackbird
, probably a reference to the color of the grape. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening
, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon
, which tends to be higher in tannin
[J. Robinson, J. Harding and J. Vouillamoz ''Wine Grapes - A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours'' pgs 630-634, Allen Lane 2012 ]
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon
, Cabernet Franc
and Petit Verdot
, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine
, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions
. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietal
s in many markets. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at globally.
[J. Robinson (ed) ''The Oxford Companion to Wine'' Third Edition, Oxford University Press 2006, pg. 746: ''"Vine varieties"'', ]
The area planted to Merlot has continued to increase, with in 2015.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tend to be two main styles. The "International style" favored by many New World wine
regions tends to emphasize late harvest
ing to gain physiological ripeness
and produce inky, purple colored wines that are full in body
with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins
with intense, plum and blackberry fruit. While this international style is practiced by many Bordeaux wine
producers, the traditional "Bordeaux style" of Merlot involves harvesting Merlot earlier to maintain acidity
and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavors (raspberries, strawberries) and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.
[Wine & Spirits Education Trust ''"Wine and Spirits: Understanding Wine Quality"'' pgs 6-9, Second Revised Edition (2012), London, ]
History and name
The earliest recorded mention of Merlot (under the synonym of ''Merlau'') was in the notes of a local Bordeaux
official who in 1784 labeled wine made from the grape in the Libournais
region as one of the area's best. In 1824, the word ''Merlot'' itself appeared in an article on Médoc wine
where it was described that the grape was named after the local black bird
(called ''merlau'' in the local variant of Occitan language
, ''merle'' in standard) who liked eating the ripe grapes on the vine. Other descriptions of the grape from the 19th century called the variety ''lou seme doù flube'' (meaning "the seedling from the river") with the grape thought to have originated on one of the islands found along the Garonne
By the 19th century it was being regularly planted in the Médoc
on the "Left Bank" of the Gironde
[Oz Clarke ''Encyclopedia of Grapes'' pg 129–133 Harcourt Books 2001 ]
After a series of setbacks that includes a severe frost in 1956 and several vintages in the 1960s lost to rot, French authorities in Bordeaux banned new plantings of Merlot vines between 1970 and 1975.
[J. Robinson ''Vines, Grapes & Wines'' pg 91–94 Mitchell Beazley 1986 ]
It was first recorded in Italy around Venice
under the synonym ''Bordò'' in 1855. The grape was introduced to the Swiss
, from Bordeaux, sometime in the 19th century and was recorded in the Swiss canton
between 1905 and 1910.
In the 1990s, Merlot saw an upswing of popularity in the United States
. Red wine consumption, in general, increased in the US following the airing of the ''60 Minutes
'' report on the French Paradox
and the potential health benefits of wine
and, possibly, the chemical resveratrol
. The popularity of Merlot stemmed in part from the relative ease in pronouncing the name of the wine as well as its softer, fruity profile that made it more approachable to some wine drinkers.
[E. Goldstein ''"Perfect Pairings"'' pg 148–152 University of California Press 2006 ]
Parentage and relationship to other grapes
In the late 1990s, researchers at University of California, Davis
showed that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc
and is a half-sibling of Carménère
and Cabernet Sauvignon. The identity of the second parent of Merlot wouldn't be discovered till the late 2000s when an obscure and unnamed variety, first sampled in 1996 from vines growing in an abandoned vineyard in Saint-Suliac
, was shown by DNA analysis to be the mother of Merlot.
This grape, later discovered in front of houses as a decorative vine in the villages of Figers
in the Poitou-Charentes
was colloquially known as ''Madeleina'' or ''Raisin de La Madeleine'' due to its propensity to be fully ripe and ready for harvest
around the July 22nd feast day
of Mary Magdalene
. As the connection to Merlot became known, the grape was formally registered under the name Magdeleine Noire des Charentes
. Through its relationship with Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, Merlot is related to the Southwest France wine
, though the exact nature of that relationship (with Abouriou potentially being either a parent of Magdeleine Noire or an offspring) is not yet known.
s have used Merlot crossed
with other grapes to create several new varieties including Carmine
(an Olmo grape
made by crossing a Carignan
x Cabernet Sauvignon cross with Merlot), Ederena
(with Abouriou), Evmolpia
(with Raboso Veronese
(a Romanian wine
grape made by crossing a Muscat Ottonel
x Babeasca negra
cross with Merlot), Nigra
(with Barbera) and Rebo
Over the years, Merlot has spawned a color mutation
that is used commercially, a pink-skinned variety known as ''Merlot gris''. However, unlike the relationship between Grenache noir
and Grenache blanc
or Pinot noir
and Pinot blanc
, the variety known as Merlot blanc
is not a color mutation but rather an offspring variety of Merlot crossing with Folle blanche
Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large berries. The color has less of a blue/black hue than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and with a thinner skin and fewer tannins per unit volume. It normally ripens up to two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Also compared to Cabernet, Merlot grapes tend to have a higher sugar
content and lower malic acid
Ampelographer J.M. Boursiquot
has noted that Merlot has seemed to inherit some of the best characteristics from its parent varieties—its fertility and easy ripening ability from Magdeleine Noire des Charentes and its color
and flavor phenolic
potential from Cabernet Franc.
Merlot thrives in cold soil, particularly ferrous clay
. The vine tends to bud
early which gives it some risk to cold frost and its thinner skin increases its susceptibility to the viticultural hazard
of Botrytis bunch rot
. If bad weather occurs during flowering
, the Merlot vine is prone to develop coulure
[J. Robinson ''Jancis Robinson's Wine Course'' Third Edition pg 142–143 Abbeville Press 2003 ]
The vine can also be susceptible to downy mildew
(though it has better resistance to powdery mildew
than other Bordeaux varieties) and to infection by leafhopper
is important to the vine with it thriving in well-drained soil more so than at base of a slope. Pruning
is a major component to the quality of the wine that is produced with some producing believing it is best to prune the vine "short" (cutting back to only a few buds). Wine consultant Michel Rolland
is a major proponent of reducing the yields
of Merlot grapes to improve quality.
The age of the vine is also important, with older vines contributing character to the resulting wine.
A characteristic of the Merlot grape is the propensity to quickly overripen once it hits its initial ripeness
level, sometimes in a matter of a few days. There are two schools of thought on the right time to harvest
Merlot. The wine makers of Château Pétrus
favor early picking to best maintain the wine's acidity
and finesse as well as its potential for aging
. Others, such as Rolland, favor late picking and the added fruit body that comes with a little bit of over-ripeness.
Merlot is one of the world's most widely planted grape variety with plantings of the vine outpacing even the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon in many regions, including the grape's homeland of France
Here, France is home to nearly two thirds of the world's total plantings of Merlot.
Beyond France it is also grown in Italy
(where it is the country's 5th most planted grape), Algeria
, New Zealand
, South Africa
and other parts of the United States
such as Washington
and Long Island
. It grows in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon but tends to be cultivated in the cooler portions of those areas. In areas that are too warm, Merlot will ripen too early.
In places like Israel
, Merlot is the second most widely planted grape variety after Cabernet Sauvignon with in cultivation, making very "New World
-style" wines. The grape can also be found in Turkey
with in 2010 as well as Malta
Merlot is the most commonly grown grape variety in France. In 2004, total French plantations stood at . By 2009, that number had risen slightly to .
It is most prominent in Southwest France
in regions like Bordeaux
where it is often blended with Malbec. The largest recent increase in Merlot plantations has occurred in the south of France, such as Languedoc-Roussillon
, where it is often made under the designation of ''Vin de Pays
Here, Merlot accounted for , more than doubling the devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Languedoc.
In the traditional Bordeaux blend, Merlot's role is to add body and softness. Despite accounting for 50-60% of overall plantings in Bordeaux
, the grape tends to account for an average of 25% of the blends—especially in the Bordeaux wine regions
. Of these Left Bank regions, the commune of St-Estephe
uses the highest percentage of Merlot in the blends.
However, Merlot is much more prominent on the Right Bank of the Gironde
in the regions of Pomerol
, where it will commonly comprise the majority of the blend. One of the most famous and rare wines in the world, Château Pétrus
, is almost all Merlot. In Pomerol, where Merlot usually accounts for around 80% of the blend, the iron
soils of the region give Merlot more of a tannic backbone than what is found in other Bordeaux regions. It was in Pomerol that the ''garagistes
'' movement began with small-scale production of highly sought after Merlot-based wines. In the sand
-based soils of Saint-Émilion
, Merlot accounts for around 60% of the blend and is usually blended with Cabernet Franc. In limestone, Merlot tends to develop more perfume notes while in sandy soils the wines are generally softer than Merlot grown in clay dominant soils.
Merlot can also be found in significant quantities in Provence
, Loire Valley
In Italy, there were of the grape planted in 2000 with more than two-thirds of Italian Merlot being used in ''Indicazione geografica tipica
'' (IGT) blends (such as the so-called "Super Tuscans
") versus being used in classified ''Denominazione di origine controllata
'' (DOC) or ''Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita'' (DOCG) wines.
A large portion of Merlot is planted in the Friuli wine
region where it is made as a varietal or sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. In other parts of Italy, such as the Maremma
coast in Tuscany
, it is often blended with Sangiovese
to give the wine a similar softening effect as the Bordeaux blends.
Italian Merlots are often characterized by their light bodies and herbal notes.
Merlot's low acidity serves as a balance for the higher acidity in many Italian wine grapes with the grape often being used in blends in the Veneto
, Alto Adige
is potentially having an influence
on Italian Merlot as more cooler-climate regions in northern Italy are being able to ripen the grape successfully while other regions already planted are encountering issues with over-ripeness.
According to Master of Wine Jancis Robinson
, some of the higher quality Italian Merlots are often from vineyards planted with cuttings
sourced from France. Robinson describes the style of Fruili Merlots from regarded estates as having potentially a "Pomerol-quality" to them while Merlots from the warm plains of the Veneto can often be over-ripe with high yields giving them a "sweet and sour" quality. Robinson notes that the Merlots from Trentino-Alto-Adige can fall somewhere between those of Friuli and the Veneto.
The ''Strada del Merlot'' is a popular tourist route through Italian Merlot regions along the Isonzo
In the hot continental climate
of many of Spain's major wine regions, Merlot is less valued than it is in the damp maritime climate
of Bordeaux or the warm Mediterranean climate
of the Tuscan coast.
But as the popularity of international varieties
continue to grow on the world wine market, Spanish wine producers have been experimenting with the variety with even winemakers in Rioja
petitioning authorities to allow Merlot to be a permitted grape to be blended with Tempranillo
in the red wines of the region.
In 2008, there were of Merlot, a significant increase from the that were being cultivated in the country only 4 years earlier.
In 2015, this had dropped slightly to , making Merlot the eighth most planted red grape variety in Spain. The largest concentration of the grape is in the Mediterranean climate of Catalonia
and the continental climate of Castilla–La Mancha
, with significant plantings also in Navarra
. In Costers del Segre
, the grape is often used in Bordeaux-style blends while in Aragon
, and Castilla-La Mancha
it is sometimes blended with Tempranillo and other local Spanish wine grape varieties.
, there were of Merlot growing in 2008 with the grape mostly planted in the warmer German wine regions
of the Palatinate
, Merlot accounts for nearly 85% of the wine production in Ticino
where it is often made in a pale "white Merlot" style.
In 2009, there were plantings of Swiss Merlot.
Plantings of Merlot have increased in recent years in the Austrian wine
region of Burgenland
where vineyards previously growing Welschriesling
are being uprooted to make room for more plantings.
The grape still lags behind its parent variety, Cabernet Franc, with in cultivation in 2008. Outside of Burgenland, nearly half of all Austrian Merlot plantings are found in Lower Austria
Rest of Europe
In the Eastern Europe
an countries of Bulgaria
, Merlot is often produced as a full bodied wine that can be very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon.
In Bulgaria, plantings of Merlot lag slightly behind Cabernet Sauvignon with in 2009 while Croatia had . In the Czech Republic
, most of the country's were found in Moravia
while Moldova had in 2009.
, Merlot was the most widely planted grape variety of any color in the Vipava Valley
in the Slovene Littoral
and the second most widely planted variety in the Gorizia Hills
located across the Italian border from Friuli. In the Slovene Littoral, collectively, Merlot accounts for around 15% of total vineyard plantings with of Merlot in cultivation across Slovenia in 2009.
, Merlot complements Kékfrankos
as a component in Bull's Blood
. It is also made into varietal wine known as ''Egri Médoc Noir'' which is noted for its balanced acid levels and sweet taste.
In 2009, there were of Merlot planted across Hungary. Most of these hectares can be found in the wine regions of Szekszárd
on the warm Pannonian Basin
with significant plantings also found in Kunság
In Romania, Merlot is the most widely exported red wine grape variety with in cultivation in 2008. Most of these plantings are found along the Black Sea
, further inland in the Muntenia
region of Dealu Mare
and in the western Romanian wine region of Drăgășani
. Here the grape is often made a varietal but is sometimes blended with other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and with local grape varieties such as Fetească neagră
In 2009, Ukraine
had of Merlot in cultivation.
, has only a very limited amount of Merlot compared to the abundance of native Portuguese grape varieties
with planted in 2010, mostly in the Portuguese wine regions
along the Tagus
, Merlot is one of the top six grape varieties planted in the eastern wine regions of Macedonia
()and Western Thrace
(). In central Greece, there were of Merlot in cultivation as of 2012.
Merlot is grown across the United States with California
growing the most. Other regions producing significant quantities of Merlot include New York State
with in 2006 with most of it in the maritime climate of the Long Island AVA
and multiple regions in Ohio
. In Texas
, Merlot is the second most widely planted red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon with . In Virginia, the grape was the widely most widely planted red variety with in 2010, most of it in the Monticello AVA
and Shenandoah Valley AVA
, while Oregon
had in 2008 with most planted in the Rogue Valley AVA
In the early history of California wine
, Merlot was used primarily as a 100% varietal
wine until winemaker Warren Winiarski
encouraged taking the grape back to its blending roots with Bordeaux style blends.
[G. Taber ''Judgement of Paris'' pg 108 Scribner 2005 ]
Following the "Merlot wine craze" of the 1990s sparked by ''60 Minutes
'' French Paradox
report, sales of Merlot spiked with the grape hitting its peak plantings of over in 2004. The 2004 movie ''Sideways
'', where the lead character is a Pinot noir
fan who expresses his disdain of Merlot, has been connected with declining Merlot sales in the US after its release (and an even larger spike of interest in Pinot noir). By 2010, plantings of California Merlot had dropped slightly to .
In California, Merlot can range from very fruity simple wines (sometimes referred to by critics as a "red Chardonnay
") to more serious, barrel aged examples
. It can also be used as a primary component in Meritage
While Merlot is grown throughout the state, it is particularly prominent in Napa
and Sonoma County
. In Napa, examples from Los Carneros
, Mount Veeder
tend to show ripe blackberry
and black raspberry
notes. Sonoma Merlots from Alexander Valley
, Carneros and Dry Creek Valley
tend to show plum
, tea leaf
and black cherry
In the 1980s, Merlot helped put the Washington wine industry on the world's wine map. Prior to this period there was a general perception that the climate of Washington State was too cold to produce red wine varietals. Merlots from Leonetti Cellar
, Andrew Will
, Columbia Crest
and Chateau Ste. Michelle
demonstrated that areas of the Eastern Washington
were warm enough for red wine production.
[P. Gregutt ''"Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide"'' pg 70 University of California Press 2007 ]
Today it is the second most widely grown red wine grape in the state (after Cabernet Sauvignon), following many years of being the most widely planted variety, and accounts for nearly one fifth of the state's entire production. In 2011, there were of Washington Merlot in cultivation.
It is widely planted throughout the Columbia Valley AVA
but has earned particular notice from plantings grown in Walla Walla
, Red Mountain
and the Horse Heaven Hills
Washington Merlots are noted for their deep color and balanced acidity.
The state's climate lends itself towards long days and hours of sunshine with cool nights that contributes to a significant diurnal temperature variation
and produces wines with New World
fruitiness and Old World
, Merlot can be found across the country from Ontario
, where there were of the grape in 2008, to British Columbia
, where the grape is the most widely planted wine grape variety of either color at . Here Merlot accounts for almost a third of all red wine grape plantings and is used for both varietal and Bordeaux-style blends.
, Merlot is cultivated primarily in the Valle de Guadalupe
of Baja California
, the country's main wine-producing area. Plantings have increased substantially since the 1980s, and cultivation has spread into the nearby areas of Ojos Negros
and Santo Tomás
The grape can also be found in the north eastern Mexican wine region of Coahuila
, across the border from Texas.
, Merlot thrives in the Apalta
region of Colchagua Province
. It is also grown in significant quantities in Curicó
and the Maipo Valley
. Until the early 1990s, the Chilean wine industry mistakenly sold a large quantity of wine made from the Carménère grape as Merlot. Following the discovery that many Chilean vineyards thought to be planted with Sauvignon blanc
was actually Sauvignonasse
, the owners of the Chilean winery Domaine Paul Bruno
(who previously worked with Château Margaux
and Château Cos d'Estournel
) invited ampelographers
to comb through their vineyards to make sure that their wines were properly identified. Genetic studies discovered that much of what had been grown as Merlot was actually Carménère
, an old French variety that had gone largely extinct in France due to its poor resistance to phylloxera
. While the vines, leaves and grapes look very similar, both grapes produce wines with distinct characteristics—Carménère being more strongly flavored with green pepper notes and Merlot having softer fruit with chocolate notes.
Today, "true" Merlot is the third most widely planted grape variety in Chile after Cabernet Sauvignon and Listán Prieto
with in 2009. Most of these planting are in the Central Valley
with Colchagua leading the way with followed by Maule Valley
with and Curicó with .
, Merlot is often blended with Tannat
and is the 2nd most widely planted red grape variety, representing around 10% of total vineyard plantings. More widely planted than Cabernet Sauvignon, there were of the grape in cultivation in 2009. Brazil
is home to of Merlot (as of 2007) with most of them in the Rio Grande do Sul
region that is across the border with Uruguay. Other South American wine regions growing Merlot include Bolivia
with as of 2012 and Peru
, Merlot plantings have been increasing in the Mendoza
region with the grape showing an affinity to the Tupungato
region of the Uco Valley
. Argentine Merlots grown in the higher elevations of Tunpungato have shown a balance of ripe fruit, tannic structure and acidity.
The grape is not as widely planted here due to the natural fruity and fleshiness of the popular Malbec
and Douce noir
/Bonarda grapes that often don't need to be "mellowed" by Merlot as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc may benefit from. In 2008, there were of Merlot growing in Argentina, most of it in the Mendoza region and in the San Juan Province
Oceania, South Africa and Asia
In New Zealand
, plantings of Merlot have increased in the Hawke's Bay region
, particularly in Gimblett Gravels
where the grape has shown the ability to produce Bordeaux-style wine.
The grape has been growing in favor among New Zealand producers due to its ability to ripen better, with less green flavors, than Cabernet Sauvignon. Other regions with significant plantings include Auckland
In 2008, Merlot was the second most widely red grape variety (after Pinot noir) in New Zealand and accounted for nearly 5% of all the country's plantings with in cultivation.
, some vineyards labeled as "Merlot" were discovered to actually be Cabernet Franc. Merlot vines can also be found growing in the Barossa Valley
, McLaren Vale
in South Australia
In 2008, it was the third most widely planted red grape variety after Syrah
and Cabernet Sauvignon with . As in California, the global "Merlot craze" spurred an increase of plantings, most of it in the warm, irrigated
regions of Murray Darling
where the grape variety could be mass-produced. Recent plantings, such as those in the Margaret River
area of Western Australia
have been focusing on making more Bordeaux-style blends.
In South Africa
, plantings of Merlot have focused on cooler sites within the Paarl
Here the grape is the third most widely planted red grape variety, accounting for nearly 15% of all red wine grape plantings, with of Merlot in cultivation in 2008. The majority of these plantings are found in the Stellenbosch region with and Paarl with . According to wine expert Jancis Robinson, South African Merlot tend to be made as a varietal in a "chocolately, glossy California style".
In Asia, Merlot is planted in emerging wine regions in India
. It can also be found in Japan with in 2009 and in China with .
As a varietal wine, Merlot can make soft, velvety wines with plum flavors. While Merlot wines tend to mature faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, some examples can continue to develop in the bottle for decades.
There are three main styles of Merlot—a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; a fruity wine with more tannic structure; and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis
, black and red cherries
. Vegetable and earthy notes include black and green olive
s, cola nut
, bell pepper
. Floral and herbal notes commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea
. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak
, the wine may show notes of caramel
, coffee bean
, dill weed
, smoke, vanilla
White Merlot is made the same way as White Zinfandel
. The grapes are crushed, and after very brief skin contact, the resulting pink juice is run off the must
and is then fermented. It normally has a hint of raspberry. White Merlot was reputedly first marketed in the late 1990s. In Switzerland, a type of White Merlot is made in the Ticino region but has been considered more a rosé.
White Merlot should not be confused with the grape variety Merlot blanc
, which is a cross between Merlot and Folle blanche
that was discovered in 1891,
, Vitis International Variety Catalogue, accessed 2011-09-21
nor should it be confused with the white mutant variety of the Merlot grape.
In food and wine pairing
s, the diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options. Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet Sauvignon would pair well with, such as grilled and charred meats. Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions like Washington State and Northeastern Italy) share many of the same food-pairing affinities with Pinot noir
and go well with dishes like salmon
, mushroom-based dishes and greens like chard
. Light-bodied Merlots can go well with shellfish
like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in a protein-rich food such as bacon
. Merlot tends not to go well with strong and blue-veined cheeses
that can overwhelm the fruit flavors of the wine. The capsaicin
s of spicy foods can accentuate the perception of alcohol in Merlot and make it taste more tannic and bitter.
Over the years, Merlot has been known under many synonyms across the globe, including Bégney, Bidal, Bidalhe, Bigney, Bigney rouge, Bini, Bini Ruzh, Bioney, Bordeleza belcha, Crabutet, Crabutet noir, Crabutet noir merlau, Hebigney, Higney, Higney rouge, Langon, Lecchumskij, Médoc noir, Merlau, Merlaut, Merlaut noir, Merle, Merle Petite, Merleau, Merlô, Merlot noir, Merlot black, Merlot blauer, Merlot crni, Merlot nero, Merlott, Merlou, Odzalesi, Odzhaleshi, Odzhaleshi Legkhumskii, Petit Merle, Picard, Pikard, Plan medre, Planet Medok, Plant du Médoc, Plant Médoc, Saint-Macaire, Same de la Canan, Same dou Flaube, Sème de la Canau, Sème Dou Flube, Semilhon rouge, Semilhoum rouge, Semilhoun rouge, Sémillon rouge, Sud des Graves, Vidal, Vini Ticinesi, Vitrai and Vitraille.
[Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) ]
'' Accessed: July 6th, 2014
External linksGrowing Merlot grapes in the U.S.
- information from Cooperative Extension
Category:Red wine grape varieties
Category:Wine grapes of Italy