Merlot is a dark blue coloured wine grape variety that originates from the Bordeaux region of France, where it has long been a blending partner to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Classically vinified to be a dry red wine, Merlot grapes can have dramatic differences in flavour depending on the type of climate they’re grown in. Typically the grape produces a soft, medium bodied red wine with juicy dark fruit flavours of berry and plum.
Merlot is one of the world’s most widely planted grape varieties where it grows in both cool and warm climates. Introduced to Australia in the 1960’s, it has become the third most planted red varietal behind Shiraz and Cabernet.
About the Variety
Merlot tends to have a similar flavour profile to Cabernet Sauvignon and is actually within the same family of grape. The main difference between these grapes is that Merlot has a thinner skin and tends to be less astringent due to fewer and softer tannins. It also maintains a fruitier, sometimes less complex body.
There are three main styles of Merlot – a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannin, a fruity wine with more tannic structure and, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include black and red cherries, several berry varieties (blackberry, blueberry etc) and plum. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, vanilla and walnut.
Merlot grapes are identified by their loose bunches of large black/blue berries. The vine tends to bud early which gives it some risk to cold frost and its thinner skin increases its susceptibility to Botrytis bunch rot.
The grape is adaptable to both cool and warm climate conditions and performs well on deep, sandy loam or well drained soils that have good moisture-holding capacity.
Merlot is grown in nearly every wine region in Australia due to is adaptability to climate conditions.
The Eden Valley has emerged as our premier Merlot region, while McLaren Vale, the Barossa and Adelaide Hills also have selected sites where Merlot does well.
If the vintage conditions are right, Orange and the Hunter Valley can produce quality Merlot, while the Margaret River is also emerging as a region where Merlot works well, particularly alongside sites where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives.
Hot, dry irrigated regions like the Murray Darling, Riverina and Riverland produce big, fruity Merlot with cherry, mocha and dark plum characteristics.
In food and wine pairings, the diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options.
Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with a variety of grilled meats while riper styles from warm regions are natural partners to baked dishes like meatballs, lasagne and casseroles.
Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions) share many of the same food pairings with Pinot Noir such as pasta dishes, grilled chicken and lamb, Mediterranean grilled vegetables, salmon and mushroom-based dishes.
Merlot also works well with mild hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and pecorino.
With its soft tannins Merlot also works well with spicy Asian food such as Pad Thai, basil chilli stir-fry and mild Indian curries.