Tag Archives: Merlot grape

Grape of the Week: Merlot

Merlot_ucd

Since we started out with the King of Grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, it seems only proper to follow up with Cab’s good buddy, Merlot.

The Biggest Question
One of the most common questions I hear at seminars and classes is “What’s the difference between Cabernet and Merlot?” It’s a good question, too, because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.

The most important difference is that Merlot is thin skinned, compared to Cabernet, and slightly plumper, so it can be lighter in color and body (the grape skins are the source of all the color and most of the flavor, texture and tannin in red wine.) And, it’s less tannic, which translates to early drinking enjoyment, right? Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black, where Cab is firmly in black territory. And, it’s a bit more herbaceous and leaves a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured (tannic) and austere. I love Jancis Robinson’s characterization of Merlot as “Cabernet without the pain.”

The Impact of Sideways: Many blame this comedy (if you have ever toured wine country this movie is a must – my summary is “Two men behaving badly.”) for transforming Merlot from being the “it” red to a fifth wheel. But, what the lead character, Miles, forgot is that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, Chateau Pétrus, a great Bordeaux that is consistently one of the world’s most expensive wines, is – you guessed it – Merlot. It runs around $1000.00/bottle these days.

TRIVIA! The most expensive wine ever sold is a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite – a first growth from the Medoc). It went for $160,000 at a Christie’s auction in 1985. Thomas Jefferson’s initials, etched on the glass, added immeasurably to its value.   Continue reading

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Ya Gotta Love Merlot

Petrus

The educator in me can’t resist following up on the last post, about buying Merlot, by telling you more about the grape, itself. 

Retailers and vintners still tell me that Merlot is a tough sell, thanks to the movie “Sideways.” Wow! That movie was popular a long time ago!! Anyway, when the main character in the movie says “I’m not drinking any f-ing Merlot!” he forgot that Merlot has been making great wine for centuries! In fact, the most expensive wine on the planet, Chateau Pétrus, is – you guessed it – Merlot.


He also forgot that even though Cabernet gets all the attention these days, Merlot is the most widely planted grape of Bordeaux. It’s kind of like an insurance policy for the growers. If late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon gets rained out, Merlot ripens earlier and may save the vintage.

 

Merlot’s roots: France, probably Bordeaux – there’s not a lot of information as to its origins, but records show that it has been cultivated in Bordeaux since at least the late 1700s. While Cabernet-based blends dominate the left bank of the great Gironde river, look to the right bank for Merlot. The most famous right-bank regions are Pomerol and St. Émilion. 


One of the most common questions I hear at seminars and classes is “What’s the difference between Cabernet and Merlot?” It’s a good question because even winemakers often mix up the two in blind tastings. Perhaps that’s the reason they blend so well – they’re similar.

Continue reading

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