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Meet the Famous Merlot

We think it’s safe to say that Merlot is probably one of the most famous words in the wine vocabulary. You are sure to have heard about it, but how much more do you know? Not much? No problem! We’ll tell you right away.

First of all, Merlot is a grape – a dark-blue colored grape – and it is considered that it was precisely the color the one responsible for the name, since it resembles so much to the Old French word for the young merle (blackbird). Also, this particular species of birds seems to be a big fan of the grape.

The first mention of Merlot was in 1784, somewhere in the Libournais region of France, and even then it was mentioned that Merlot is used as a blending grape, but also for varietal wines. Obviously, Merlot is still very much associated with France, but it is not only about the name; actually, about 2/3 of the world’s global crops for Merlot grapes are in France (that was about 115.000 hectares in 2004). But Merlot is also cultivated in: Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, USA (California, Washington or Long Island), Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and even South Africa.

What you may not know is that Merlot seems to be a successor of Cabernet Franc and the “brother” of Cabernet Sauvignon (by the way, here’s one of nature’s lovely samples of irony – there actually is a bit of sibling rivalry between the two, meaning that where the “brothers” grow together, Merlot is often grown in a slightly cooler region, because otherwise it would ripen too early). Anyway, it is a fact that Merlot is characterized by loose bunches of large berries, a blue/black hue, somewhat thin skins (thus less tannins), a low level of malic acid and a pretty high level of sugar.

As for its popularity, well, it’s definitely got something to do with the name – clearly it’s fairly easy to pronounce even for non-French speakers. But obviously it’s more about the wine itself – it blends easily, adding body and softness and as a varietal wine it’s velvety, soft and fruity (usually with subtle plum notes, but also blackberry or blueberry). And its aroma can also be floral (eucalyptus, sage, oregano, mint) or earthy (bell pepper, mushrooms, tobacco or leather). For deep caramel/chocolate/coffee/smoke notes it needs to be aged in oak barrels and it needs to be aged for quite some time.

It pairs well with grilled meats, shellfish, mushroom dishes, but avoid drinking it with blue cheeses or spicy foods. And definitely make sure it’s properly kept in store.

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