Varietal 2: Merlot | Part D: Comparing Merlot

U.S. Merlot typically hails from warmer vineyards driving the wine’s style toward uber-ripe, juicy and jammy black fruits with higher alcohol levels balanced with moderate acidity which keeps the wine balanced.  In comparison to other red wines, warm-climate U.S. Merlot truly has a velvety mouth-feel and richness.  While there are numerous Merlots within the “Have Nots” category which provide less complexity, often higher alcohol and can be fairly standard to traditional Merlot black fruit flavors, there are plenty of amazing wine makers making Merlots with all of the fruitiness, herbaceous undertones, acidity and mellow tannins to convert even the staunchest “I don’t like Merlot” wine drinker.

France’s Bordeaux region, particularly the area referred to as the “Right Bank”, is considered the crème-de-la-crème of Merlot growing and wine making in the world.  However, Merlot from Bordeaux is almost always blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and other red wine varietals approved by regulations for blending with Merlot.  While remaining juicy, soft and rich, Merlot’s take on more mineral or earthy flavors in Bordeaux making them more complex in flavor layered with the red and black fruits.  Most Merlot-heavy wines from this region are meant to be consumed without aging so they remain fresh and fruit-forward.  Wine makers use of oak varies from no oak, to heavy (at least for French wines!) exposure which creates the baked spice, vanilla and cedar notes whether young or aged.  Overall, French Merlot-based wines tend to be softer, lower in alcohol and earthier than their U.S., warm climate cousins.

U.S. Growing Regions:

  • California – Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin Valley
  • Washington State

Global Growing Regions:

  • France – Bordeaux
  • Italy
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Chile