Know Your Variety: Merlot
From humble beginnings to a top contender, Merlot has seen significant growth in a relatively short lifespan, becoming a red that's favoured across the globe. It's another French varietal that's being championed in Australia with local winemakers applying a unique spin, and the results are frequently delicious.
Merlot pairs incredibly well with foods of the world and its medium-weight makes it appealing to even the most discerning wine lovers. There's a lot to like about this varietal. Taylors' Wines Chief Winemaker Adam Eggins once said: "Merlot can be one of the world's greatest wines, so the question becomes what can we do to release its worldly potential?"
Mouth-watering Merlot dates back to 1784 France, with the earliest reference coming from a note written by an official who used the term "merlau" to describe the best wines from the famed Bordeaux region.
Merlot is rumoured to have first been planted in 1923, although its story officially kicks off in 1965 when Merlot grapes were imported from California, not France. Merlot kept a low profile for decades until the early 1990s. The Aussie wine scene saw tremendous growth and the influx of winemakers began expanding into new varietals.
By 2016, Australia was crushing an incredible 112,000 tonnes of Merlot grapes, growing from just 1000 tonnes crushed in 1987. Today, Merlot remains one of the most popular red varieties and its future continues to look bright.
Grown in most Australian wine regions, Merlot thrives in those possessing a moderate-to-warm climate like the Barossa Valley and Geographe. It grows well on deep, sandy loams and well-drained soils that have great moisture-holding capacity. Merlot does possess a reputation for being difficult to grow. The soil, drainage, amount of wind and sunshine all need to be perfect or else the grapes may not fully ripen, resulting in a bitter, sour taste.
Coming in shy of full-bodied Shiraz, but carrying more weight that Pinot Noir, Merlot skirts a middle ground. Experience suggestions of plum, mulberry and fruitcake, raspberry, cherry, violet, spice and dried herb hints, maybe even chocolate and olive from the oak input.
Merlot tends to be soft, plump and juicy and ultimately worthy of plenty of attention. It's often regarded as a suitable entry-level red for white wine drinkers.
Did You Know?
- Merlot is the second most planted grape in the world behind the juggernaut that is Cabernet Sauvignon.
- "Merlau" was also used to describe blackbirds in the Bordeaux region. The term was likely adopted to describe Merlot due to the grapes’ dark skin or possibly due to the blackbird's fondness for eating the grapes straight from the vine.
- Merlot is responsible for one of the most expensive wines in the world – Château Petrus. Made from 100% Merlot grapes since 2010, this Bordeaux-produced wine is outstanding, with prices beginning at around $2,700 a bottle. In 2011, a Château Petrus from the 1961 vintage sold at auction for a record high of AUD $189,000.
Merlot is an excellent food-friendly wine thanks to its medium-body and acidity. It pairs well with lighter meats like duck and pork. Crack a bottle with a simple slow-cooked favourite or share with the family at the table while enjoying a tomato-based pasta dish like bolognese or a gnocchi creation.
Mild, mature cheddar cheese as part of a lighter grazing plate served with quince paste, and other nibbles are great alternate pairings.
Make a move for Merlot - check out our range of this exciting varietal and save big along the way!