Merlot is a dark blue-coloured wine grape variety, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the colour of the grape. Its softness and "fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends to be higher in tannin.
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz Cabernet, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets. This flexibility has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety at 260,000 hectares (640,000 acres) globally. The area planted to Merlot has continued to increase, with 266,000 hectares (660,000 acres) in 2015.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tend to be two main styles. The "International style" favoured by many New World wine regions tends to emphasise late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and produce inky, purple coloured wines that are full in body with high alcohol and lush, velvety tannins with 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 that have fresh, red fruit flavours (raspberries, strawberries) and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.
As a varietal wine, Merlot can make soft, velvety wines with plum flavours. While Merlot wines tend to mature faster than Cabernet Sauvignon, some examples can continue to develop in the bottle for decades. There are three main styles of Merlot - a soft, fruity, smooth wine with very little tannins; a fruity wine with more tannic structure; and, finally, a brawny, highly tannic style made in the profile of Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the fruit notes commonly associated with Merlot include cassis, black and red cherries, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, mulberry, olallieberry and plum. Vegetable and earthy notes include black and green olives, cola nut, bell pepper, fennel, humus, leather, mushrooms, rhubarb and tobacco. Floral and herbal notes commonly associated with Merlot include green and black tea, eucalyptus, laurel, mint, oregano, pine, rosemary, sage, sarsaparilla and thyme. When Merlot has spent significant time in oak, the wine may show notes of caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee bean, dill weed, mocha, molasses, smoke, vanilla and walnut.
Alternative Names: Alicante, Alicante Noir, Bégney, Bidal, Bidalhe, Bigney, Bigney rouge, Bini, Bini Ruzh, Bioney, Black Alicante, Bordeleza belcha, Crabutet, Crabutet Noir, Crabutet Noir merlau, Hebigney, Higney, Higney rouge, Langon, Lecchumskij, Médoc Noir, Merlau, Merlaut, Merlaut Noir, Merle, Merle Petite, Merleau, Merlô, Merlot Noir, Merlot black, Merlot blauer, Merlot crni, Merlot nero, Merlott, Merlou, Odzalesi, Odzhaleshi, Odzhaleshi Legkhumskii, Petit Merle, Picard, Pikard, Plan medre, Planet Medok, Plant du Médoc, Plant Médoc, Saint-Macaire, Same de la Canan, Same dou Flaube, Sème de la Canau, Sème Dou Flube, Semilhon rouge, Semilhoum rouge, Semilhoun rouge, Sémillon rouge, Sud des Graves, Vidal, Vini Ticinesi, Vitrai and Vitraille