Merlot Wines

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007 at 12:00 am

Merlot is a type of red wine grape that is most often used as a blending grape for several varietal wines. Merlot-based wines are wines which normally have medium body with traces of berry, plum and currant flavors. The fleshiness and softness of the wine, combined with the early ripening, gives this type of wine the ability to ideally blend with the later-ripening and sterner Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one of the characteristics that has given Merlot its reputation for being one of the most popular red wine varietals that Chile and the United States produces.

One of the earliest records of the existence of Merlot was in the notes of a resident Bordeaux official who in 1784 labeled wine which was made from the grape in the region called Libournais. This was one of the area’s best regions.

The name "Merlot" essentially comes from the French regional patois word "merlot" which translates to "young blackbird". The term "merle" is the French word for several kinds of thrushes which includes blackbirds. The name came from either the grapes, dark and beautiful blue color or because of the blackbird’s fondness for grapes. It was during the 19th century when the Merlot was being regularly planted in the Medoc on the Right Bank of the Gironde.

The grape was first recorded in Italy around Venice which was under the synonym "Bordo" way back in 1855. The grape variety was introduced to the Swiss, from Bordeaux, sometime in the 19th century and was subsequently recorded in the Swiss canton of Ticino between 1905 and 1910. Several researchers from the University of California, Davis believed that the grape was an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is related to Carmenere.

It wasn’t until the year 1993 that the Chilean wine industry mistakenly sold a huge quantity of wine which was made from the Carmenere but was labeled to be as Merlot. Carmenere is an old French variety which had gone essentially extinct in France because of the grape’s poor resistance to phylloxera which as of 2006 does not exist in Chile.

Merlot grapes are easily identified by their wobbly bunch of large berries. Their color resembles a bluish-black hue which is much lighter than that of Cabernet Sauvignon only with a thinner skin. The different grapes also have fewer tannins compared to other wine varieties. When compared to Cabernet grapes, Merlot has a tendency to contain more sugar and malic acid.

This grape varietal does well in cold soil, mostly in ferrous clay. The vine has a propensity to bud early which essentially gives it some risk to cold frost and its thin skin makes it susceptible to rot. It usually ripens up to two weeks earlier than the Cabernet Sauvignon. Water stress is imperative to the vine with it flourishing in well-drained soil more so than at the base of a slope. Even though it has a tendency to over ripen, this grape variety is still cherished to be one of the best grape varietals ever.