Mastering Merlot

“It’s time to set the record straight: Merlot wine is first class.” – Wine Folly...

 Merlot is a dark blue coloured wine grape variety with the name thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird – in reference to the colour of the grape. It has long been seen as the underdog to Cabernet Sauvignon, as an understated wine with not much character, length, depth and flavour - used mostly in blends. But, times have changed and with the ‘New World’ wine regions embracing this cultivar it brought back the respect Merlot definitely deserves.

 While Merlot is made across the globe, it's produced in mainly two styles. The "International style", favoured by many New World regions, tends to emphasis late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and produce inky, purple coloured wines. They are full in body with high alcohol levels, lush with velvety tannins and intense plum and blackberry fruit. While this international style is practiced by many Bordeaux wine producers, the traditional "Bordeaux style" of Merlot involves harvesting Merlot earlier to maintain acidity and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels. They have fresh, red fruit flavours (raspberries, strawberries) and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.

 In South Africa, a New World region, plantings of Merlot have focussed on cooler sites within the Paarl and Stellenbosch winelands. Here the grape is the third most widely planted red grape variety and according to wine expert Jancis Robinson, South African Merlot tends to be made as a varietal in a “chocolately, glossy California Style.”

 In food and wine pairings the diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options, especially when centred on a medley of meats. Grilled, braised, baked, and broiled – opt for poultry, beef, game, and port, along with dishes that feature heavy meat-loads in the recipe. Remember to serve it a little cooler than room temperature, at around 18°C – place in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.

 Last but not least, it’s very interesting to note that according to some, the popularity of Merlot stemmed in part from the relative ease in pronouncing the name! It has now been adopted as a ‘Cabernet without the pain’, due to softer tannins – less time needed to age - and restaurateurs, winemakers and the wine-loving public agree that it is the one wine that can sell itself. It’s clearly very easy to fall for Merlot’s charms… smooth, rounded, “easy-drinking”… and truth be told, that is why we LOVE it so much!

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