It’s International Merlot Day! To celebrate, we’re exploring everything about the grape and the wine and sharing some Merlot recommendations from French wine importers in Australia.
This is our 2020 article. Check out our International Merlot Day 2021 article here
WHAT IS MERLOT?
Merlot as a grape
Merlot is a wine grape of dark blue colour which is used both as a blending grape and for varietal wines.
The name is said to come from the French word “merle” meaning blackbird, in a likely reference to the Merlot grape’s colour.
The Merlot grape is soft and fleshy and ripens early which makes it a good blend with Cabernet Sauvignon which is higher in tannin and ripens later. In fact, it is often grown in the same regions that produce Cabernet Sauvignon grapes but is cultivated in the cooler parts of those areas due to its early ripening.
Merlot as a wine
Merlot is used in winemaking both as a varietal and in blends, such as Bordeaux wine which blends Merlot along with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Shiraz Cabernet.
Merlot wine depends on the region in which it is made. New World wine regions tend to make Merlot in the “international style” which places emphasis on late harvesting. This produces ripeness and inky, purple coloured wines full in body with high alcohol and velvety tannins of intense plum and blackberry fruit.
The more traditional Bordeaux style however sees earlier harvesting of Merlot grapes which keeps acidity and produces more medium-bodied, moderate alcohol level wines with fresh, red fruit flavours such as raspberries and strawberries and occasionally leafy, vegetal notes.
Depending of course on the environment in which its grown, Merlot has different tastes. In limestone, Merlot develops more perfumed notes, but sandy soils make the wines generally softer than Merlot grown in clay dominant soils.
Pétrus, which is one of the most famous and rare wines in the world, is almost all Merlot. In the Pomerol area within Bordeaux, where Merlot usually accounts for around 80% of the blend, the iron-clay soils of the region give Merlot more of a tannic backbone than what is found in other Bordeaux regions. Pomerol began small-scale production of highly sought-after Merlot-based wines.
A VERY POPULAR WINE GRAPE
Merlot is one of the world’s most planted grape varieties. In 2004, it was estimated to be the 3rd most grown variety globally with 260,000 hectares (640,000 acres). By 2015, that had increased to 266,000 hectares (660,000 acres) worldwide!
In many countries Merlot represents the most grown or one of the most grown grape varietals.
In France it is the most commonly grown grape variety. France grows nearly 2/3 of the world’s total plantings of Merlot! In 2009, Merlot cultivations made up 115,746 hectares (286,010 acres) in France!
It Italy, Merlot is the 5th most planted grape.
In Israel, Merlot is the 2nd most widely planted grape – 1000 hectares (2500 acres)
WHERE IS MERLOT GROWN?
As mentioned above, Merlot was the 3rd most grown wine grape globally in 2004. In addition to France, Italy and Israel mentioned above where Merlot makes up some of the most grown varietals, Merlot is also grown in Algeria, Australia, Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, Slovenia, Turkey, and parts of the United States such as California, Washington, Long Island and Virginia.
Merlot is mostly found in regions found in the South-West of France such as Bordeaux, Bergerac and Cahors where it is often blended with Malbec.
Languedoc-Roussillon however has also made significant increases to its Merlot plantations. In this region, Merlot made up 29,914 hectares (73,920 acres), which is more than double the 11,000 hectares devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Languedoc.
In Languedoc-Roussillon, Merlot grapes are often used in the production of wine with the designation Vin de Pays wine.
Merlot vines can also be found in significant quantities in Provence, the Loire Valley, Savoie, Ardèche, Charente, Corrèze, Drôme, Isère and Vienne.
Merlot is found in most of Australia’s wine regions and is the 3rd most planted red wine grape varietal following Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. While it can be found in most of Australia’s wine regions, the largest Merlot plantings are in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra in South Australia; the Yarra Valley and Murray Valley in Victoria; Margaret River in Western Australia; and the Riverina in NSW.
Queensland also grows Merlot in South Burnett (since the mid-1990s) and in the Granite Belt (since the 1960s). There are also significant merlot plantings in the warm, irrigated regions of Murray Darling, Riverina and Riverland where the grape variety can be mass-produced.
Australia also found that some of its vineyards labelled as “Merlot” were in fact Cabernet Franc, which is the “father” of Merlot.
WHICH MERLOTS TO DRINK FOR INTERNATIONAL MERLOT DAY
Popsy & JJ
Popsy and JJ have not one, not two but three Merlots to recommend for International Merlot Day!
Popsy and JJ Merlot Story
The earliest recorded mention of merlot was in the notes of a local Bordeaux official who in 1784 labelled this grape as one of the area’s best. Aside from being the most planted grape in Bordeaux, these particular merlot clones planted in the right bank of Bordeaux stretching from Cotes de Bourg south to St Emillion are very rare and special indeed. In the late 1990s, researchers at University of California showed that the earliest merlot clones were the offspring of cabernet franc and a half-sibling of cabernet sauvignon, carménère and malbec, all of which were born in the renowned Bordeaux region.
So, when in France we just had to bring back some silky merlot blends from Bordeaux back to Australia. We found 3 absolute rippers!
The first is the 2015 Chateau Haut-Maco Cotes de Bourg (rated 95/100, $36.95).
Made in a family owned Chateau that has been in continuous operation for four generations, farming their pristine vines in the small town of Tauriac, in the gorgeous Côtes de Bourg region on the right bank. We tasted and discussed this wine with Hugues and his sister Anne and felt their passion and love for the family wines. This example is a gorgeous, silky smooth medium to full bodied merlot-cabernet blend.
The first thing you notice after pouring this wine is the colour. A dirty, intense red colour that can be directly related to the clay and limestone soil. An amazing complex aroma of dark fruit and berries. The oak is perfectly integrated with soft spices coming through. Tannins are delicate and smooth. The flavours are dark fruit and the finish is silky. This wine just keeps on giving after each mouthful! This is ready to be enjoyed right now however if you love it so much you can cellar it with confidence. It was a lovely food match with BBQ beef fillet with Dijon mustard (click for recipe). https://popsyandjj.com.au/blogs/recipes/bbq-beef-fillet-with-dijon-mustard
We fell in love with 2 other superb merlot blends on the right bank of Bordeaux:
2016 Chateau Cantenac Selection Madame St Emilion Grand Cru (rated 96/100, $49.95), super lux and silky and an incredible find at this price.
2016 Chateau Robert Cotes de Bourg (rated 94/100, $25.95), an amazingly soft yet complex wine for a very modest asking price.
If you love merlot and Bordeaux wine, you should check out these three rippers at
Thomas Gisbert gives us his International Merlot Day recommendation.
Which merlot do you recommend? Chateau Tire Pé Bordeaux ‘Diem’ 2019
Why? Over indexes in the value stakes for Bordeaux, particularly in Australia. Merlot vines are aged 10 to 15 years, with 3300 to 5000 vines per hectares. These are hand harvested, before a short 8-12 day cool maceration for a soft extraction. The wine is aged for 8-12 months in concrete tanks and bottled without systematic filtration, with only a small amounts of sulphur added.
What would you serve with this merlot? A versatile food matching wine, enjoy with anything from a burger to Bolognese pasta.
Margot Dumas from Le Plonque gives us her International Merlot Day recommendation.
Merlot is one of the most cultivated and most drunk varietals in the world. We love it as a blend or on its own.
It is a black grape variety that produces fruity red wines, known for their notes of red fruit, plum and spices, which can be drunk young or kept for decades (especially Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blends).
Merlot is grown almost everywhere, but especially in Bordeaux. The great growths of Bordeaux are mainly Merlot / Cab Sav blends (sometimes blended with other grape varieties). For the Merlot Day, we have chosen to recommend a very beautiful Bordeaux, Château Cardinal 2012, in the Montagne Saint Emilion appellation.
Why this wine? Because, even if it is a blend, it is a wine that is really centred on Merlot. This is the typicality of the right bank of Bordeaux (the Bordeaux region is divided in two, on each side of the Garonne). On the left bank (Médoc, Pauillac, Margaux…) we have more robust wines because they are more centred on Cabernet, whereas on the right bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol…), we focus on Merlot for more fruity and elegant fruit.
We love Château Cardinal 2012 because it was already great in 2013, but it is even better now. It’s aged and it suits it! Its tannins have become more supple and its tannins have become more supple and its aromas have evolved towards riper, almost jammy fruit.
What should we drink it with?
Red meats (grilled, braised or stewed beef), a platter of charcuterie & cheese or a good cassoulet!
It’s currently available for $37.90 on the website but not for long.. there are only 20 or so bottles left in stock!
Nathalie Taquet from Bottli gives us her recommendation for International Merlot Day.
My favorite wine is the 2018 Château de la Pensée Lalande de Pomerol in Bordeaux. Its enclosure vineyard is less than two hectares, in the Lalande-de-Pomerol appellation. A highly confidential production, which they offer exclusively as a primeur wine.
This parcel of vines was taken over in 2013 by Julien Mingot, the third generation of family winegrowers who produce in Bordeaux Supérieur on their historic property located on the same commune, Savignac de l’Isle. Unlike the gravel soil at left bank, the terroir of La Pensée is characterised by clay, sand and silt soil. It has begun to showcase its potential once the team carries out a thorough work for the estate.
The colour has a seductive deep crimson with scarlet hue. One the nose, it exhibits aromatic, ripe red and dark fruit aromas like red plum, black currant and blackberry, accompanying charming sweet spices, liquorice and fruit cake notes with a supple dash of toasty, dark chocolate scents derived from oak maturation.
One the palate, it displays aromatic, beautiful red and dark fruit flavours, combined with liquorice, sweet spices and toasty characters from first sip through finish. It is a seductive, structured, concentrated yet well-balanced wine with silky tannins and mouth-watering acidity. It benefits from decanting for one hour when young, or it can be kept in your wine fridge for up to 8 years.
It goes very well with grilled or seared red meats, poultry and your favourite barbecue. Also, matured Dutch cheese like Gouda or Edam is one of classic match for this wine.
Airoldi Fine Wines
OFFER: Receive 20% off all orders from Airoldi Fine Wines with the code “Marseillaise” at checkout.
Daniel Airoldi from Airoldi Fine Wines gives us his International Merlot Day recommendation.
Which merlot do you recommend?
The Château Tour du Moulin 2015 which is from a little known Bordelaise appellation, AOC Fronsac on the Right Bank not far from Pomerol
It’s a pure Merlot with a lot of character and is very versatile and is unbeatable value for money.
What would you serve with this Merlot?
Roast duck with Sarladaise potatoes.
What’s your favourite Merlot? Do you like the Bordeaux or the international style?
Happy International Merlot Day!
If you like French wine, you may also be interested in our articles from other Wine Days: