“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f**** Merlot!” said the wine-obsessed Miles Raymond from the movie Sideways, a movie that marked the decline of Merlot in US since 2004. “Sideways Effect” continued to spread across the globe, some people believe it has brought negative impact on Merlot’s reputation ever since, but is it true?
From the 1970s to 1980s, Merlot was in fact one of the most popular wine in the world. With excessive demand in the market, growers were eager to plant as many merlot grapes as they could and some vines were cultivated in unfit soil and climate. As a result, poor quality grapes produced poor bottles of wine, which hurt Merlot’s reputation eventually.
Lucky for all of us, nowadays Merlot is making a comeback. The winemaker has re-examined its growing environment, vine management and wine-making options to produce intense yet complex fruit-forward Merlot wine with numerous styles.
Merlot grapes can have dramatic differences in flavors depending on the type of climate they’re grown in. Warm and sunny climate with more exposure to sunlight are ideal growing conditions for high quality Merlot wine, and ripe and rich mouthfeel with complex red cherry and plum flavour can be found. Cold condition on the other hand, makes Merlot struggle to grow. Bitter and unpleasant astringency mouthfeel with more herbaceous flavour created by unripe tannin can be found instead.
Blend or 100% single variety
Master craftsman–winemakers determine which style of wine they would like to make with their experiences and excellent knowledge in micro-climate and soil varieties in a specific wine region. Grapes from different vineyard blocks may have significant difference caused by temperature fluctuations and nutrients in soils. Blending style is commonly seen in the market as it balances the consistency of wine by using a variety of red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, it also enhances complexity of aromas and flavours, which makes the wine more attractive. Meanwhile, some wines such as the legendary Pétrus from Pomerol and Masseto from Bolgheri are using 100% Merlot, as their winemakers are confident enough to create their art piece by using only Merlot and proud to show the unique characteristic of a particular Vineyard, Vintage and Grape.
France is Merlot’s home territory, most renowned for Right bank Bordeaux such as Pomerol and Saint Emilion, blending wine and aging in oak are traditions and typical wine styles in these regions. While some vintages have higher levels of rainfall and humidity. As a buyer, it is important to consider vintage variation when choosing Merlot in Bordeaux .
In Italy, Merlot is often blended with many Italian wine grapes for higher acidity and increase in roundness and silky texture. Merlot is one of the most commonly used as a blending grape with traditional Italian grapes such as Sangiovese in Tuscany.
Merlot in USA has a more ripen fruit character, which provides a sweet sensation with plum, cherry, and blackberry flavors. Thanks to the long ripen growing season with limited rainfall, the wine can also possess a floral character with reminiscence of violets. Grown in warmer regions such as Napa Valley and Washington state, Merlot is soft and lush. The alcohol level is usually higher with high fruit concentration, and they aged in both new and old oak barrels for a more complex flavour.