Merlot is a great player in the wine world, having two very different roles. Not only does it make a great blending partner but it is also a pretty good grape when used on its own, producing some deliciously subtle and easy drinking red wines.
Merlot made its name as one of the three grapes used to make Bordeaux, along with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The concentration of these grapes vary according to the commune where it is grown and it is those found along the right bank of the Gironde in Saint Emilion and Pomerol, for example, where Merlot is the dominant grape.
Wines from this part of Bordeaux are generally thought to be some of the best in the world, and the quality and inevitably the taste will be second to none. However, this comes at a price and if that's too much for your pocket, you might want to look elsewhere. Some of the New World countries, including regions of Chile and South Australia, are currently producing some great tasting Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blends, which are well worth a taste.
However, Merlot isn't just used in blends. The grape produces some very tasty wines when used on its own. Merlot can be quite a tough grape to grow as it is quite fragile, but when grown well, it produces a wine with delicious cherry and plum tones. The addition of oak gives a sometimes smokey, even choclately, edge. The New World, in particular, is a good place to start when looking for a decent tasting bottle of Merlot, although France, Italy and Spain are all also working well with this grape.
The delicate nature of a Merlot grape, along with its soft skin, means that it generally makes a fairly light to medium bodied wine compared to its red counterparts. However, it does vary according to where the grape has been grown and the conditions in which it has been grown. Lighter versions will be soft and easy to drink, whereas heavier versions have a very a fairly similar tasting profile to its blending buddy Cabernet Sauvignon just with less body and tannin.
Because Merlot produces a variety of styles of wine, it suits a variety of drinking situations. A lighter version, will taste great on its own or with lighter foods such as tomato-based dishes or pizza, while heavier versions and Merlot blends will taste much better with red meats and richer dishes. If you are looking for the perfect drink to drink over lunch on a summer's day, a light Merlot will always work well as it won't be too overpowering from the afternoon ahead.
About the Author
Louise Truswell works in and writes about the wine industry. She specializes in red wine including Merlot wine. To find out more and to choose from a selection of bottles of Merlot, visit virginwines.com/wine-zone/merlot