Merlot is one of the most popular wines in the entire world. In the United States, it ranks second most popular behind Cabernet Sauvignon. However, in the past few years wine experts and connoisseurs have deemed Merlot to be an unworthy wine. Perhaps this is because it tends to be an easy-drinking wine with a smooth texture and finish and low, unobtrusive tannins. Merlot wine may be easy-to-drink and beginner friendly, but that does not mean that seasoned wine drinkers cannot enjoy or appreciate fine Merlot wine. Merlot is a classic wine, with origins dating back to 19th century France. Learn more about the history of this velvety red wine below.
The earliest mention of Merlot in France was written in the notes of a Bordeaux official in 1784. This local official noted that the wine coming from the Libournais region was among the best in the area. In this document, Merlot was named Merlau. It was not until the 1800s that the word Merlot was used in reference to the wine. In 1824, an article on Medoc wine described that the Merlot grape was named after the local blackbird. There are two thoughts regarding the naming of the grape: one is that it was named because local blackbirds loved to eat the ripe Merlot grapes and the other is that the grape (and wine) was named simply due to the color of the blackbirds. Merlot was first recorded in Italy around Venice and was called by the name Bordo.
The most famous region for growing the Merlot grape is the Bordeaux region in France. The Medoc region, though generally known for its Cabernets, devotes 40% of its planting space to Merlot grapes. Merlot is the third most popularly planted grape in France. The Merlot grape also thrives in the northeast Italy and is currently rapidly being grown in Eastern Europe. Merlot wine reached peak popularity in the United States during the 1990s, but it experienced a drop in popularity after the movie Sideways poked fun at the wine. Modern Merlot often features the following notes and flavors:
- Fruity Flavors – Merlot can have fruit flavors such as raspberries, dried cherries, blackberries, blackcurrant and plum.
- Spices – The region in which the Merlot grape is grown affect the spices that are present in the wine but some common spices are cloves, mint, caramel, bay leaves and black pepper.
- Oak Flavors – Again, it will depend on whether the Merlot has been lightly or heavily oaked, but some of the resulting flavors are smoke, tar and oak for heavily oaked Merlots and vanilla and coconut in lightly oaked Merlots.
- Age of the Bottle – Wine gains new flavors in the aging process and Merlots have some interesting notes from aging. Common flavors include earth, tobacco, leather and coffee.
Knowing a bit of history about the wines you prefer is a bit of fun and it gives you an appreciation for where the wine originated and what the wine has become. Merlot truly is one of the best red wines for beginners, though that does not mean that a seasoned wine veteran cannot enjoy its fruity flavors and smooth finish. Merlot also pairs with a large variety of foods, making it less stressful to find a great combination. Sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of Merlot at the end of a long day.