From My Knowldege and Experiences

The Magic Of Merlot

Friday, April 1, 2022
I love Merlot. I like how it tastes and I like how it sounds... Merlot. The name is said to originate from a local black bird in France, known as a merlau in its original Latin derivative, who enjoyed eating the ripe grapes straight off the vine.

Also known as Merlot Noir, amongst other names, this wine takes earlier ripened grapes compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon, with less of a blue/black hue colour, with thinner skin and a higher sugar content. What’s interesting about Merlot is that the style could be different depending on the time of the harvest: the ripening period is very fast and can change its character depending on the harvest time.

There are three main styles of Merlot: a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; a fruity wine with more tannic structur; and, finally, a darker wine with a high tannic style. The flavour characteristic covers a huge profile of the classic fruit notes of the berry family: black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, mulberry, and plum. Interesting floral and herbal notes include green and black tea, eucalyptus, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage and thyme. Tosome vegetable and earthy notes suchas black and green olives, bell pepper, fennel, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb, and tobacco. And when aged in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, mocha, smoke, vanilla, and walnut. Wow, what a range! No wonder this variety became the second most planted grape in the world.

Merlot is associated with Bordeaux, France, especially in the premium area of Saint Emilion and Pomerol, which contributes to the blend of Super Tuscans in Italy, and allowing to blend of Spanish Rioja with Tempranillo. Merlot can be grown in the same terroir and regions as Cabernet Sauvignon, but Merlot tends to cover colder temperatures. Merlot gives more softness and body to a blend, while Cabernet Sauvignon gives acidity, tannin, and aromatic fruit to the wines. Did you know Merlot grapes can actually be used to make a white (almost rosé) wine in Switzerland? It’s a type of White Merlot made in the Ticino Region in the same style of a white Zinfandel in California.For my tasting I am using an interesting shape of glass from Riedel, the Winewings, a unique looking glass that has a structure quite like like a bell pepper: it has a long and stretched bottom and an almost egg-timer curvature. This is   to increase the surface area between the wine and air which helps to capture the delicate and layered aromas. I am using the Cabernet Sauvignon glass in this series which assists in my ability to really smell and sense the nuanced aromas in the Merlot.First on the tasting list is the Grand Reserva Santa Ema Merlot 2018 from Valle Del Maipo, Chile, made from 100% Merlot with 13,5% alcohol aged in French and American oak barrel. It has an intense fresh fruit aroma with a note of ripe red fruit, blueberry, plum, delicate vanilla aroma with a hit of chocolate, and notable roosted coffee with medium- high acidity and high in tannin. In Spain, a Grand Reserva - by law - means you must age the wine in an oak barrel for two years and bottle aged for 3 years, in total 5 years old wine. This isn’t the case in for the Santa Ema because the term Grand Reserva in Chile indicates that the grapes come from the highest quality that maintains to produce wine with a minimum 12,5% alcohol in the wine.

The second Merlot is the Trivento Tribu Mendoza Argentina Merlot 2018. Mendoza, Argentina, is a hot region and when Merlot is grown in a hot region it demonstrates a high expression of ripe fruit in its flavour profile and the influence of ageing in oak will add body to the wine.

It is dark ruby in colour with the aromas of blackberry jam with a hint of wildflowers, vanilla, baking spice, and a well-balanced and pleasant fnish. I was so impressed with the creamy vanilla taste in the wine. The tannin is high, the high acidity in the wine balances the palate and has a long fnish. A truly enjoyable wine.

The third wine is the Gnarly Head Merlot 2016 Central Coast, California. The label shows the artworks of an Old Vine as their focus is to produce from using Old Vines, which are said to create wines with big and bold flavours. Gnarly Head 2016 Merlot is about power and finesse. The wine shows impressive pronounced aromas of raspberry, ripe plum, pomegranate, baking spice, and a lot of vanilla, caramel, and buttered toast.  The tannin is velvety with a very nice balance and shows the elegant side of Merlot with its complexity of aroma and taste.

The more you drink it the more aroma and flavour you can detect, the type of wine that could give you more to describe when you drink it. In food and wine pairings, the different types of Merlot gives us a wide array of pairing options. The soft style of Merlot from the cooler region is easy to pair with salmon and mushroom dishes. The light body style can go well with prawn or scallops, a delicious pairing with bacon or prosciutto, strong cheese or old-aged cheese. The full-body style of course goes well with all grilled meat, the high tannin in the wine will easily cut through the fat in the meat. Bring a Merlot to any dinner invitation and it will likely go well with what’s on the menu — and you’ll be the favourite guest at the table!


WSET Certified Educator / Head of Hatten Education Center

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