Merlot wine guide: origin, flavors and organoleptic characteristics of a noble red wine
Merlot is an incredible wine, but also one of the most maligned and misunderstood by critics and consumers alike. The first adjectives that come to mind to describe Merlot is soft, warm, plump, velvety…
This monothematic profile doesn’t give praises to a globetrotter grape that has traveled all over the word and has adapted to all climates due to its early maturity, not to mention that in many cases has helped winemakers to make soft wine that otherwise would have been excessively rough.
But we are analyzing the problem from the wrong point of view: very often the velvety nature of Merlot was pushed to the extreme and has become its Achilles heel, and today we are inundated with anonymous Merlot, veiled by a softness that hides a potential rarely exploited. To better understand this noble grape we have to leave for France.
The home of Merlot: Pomerol
Pomerol, the smallest of the appellations of Bordeaux, is without question the place of choice of the world’s best Merlot, the quintessential of class and elegance. When describing the best Pomerol rarely words like warm, fluffy or soft come out, au contraire it is not uncommon to come across wines of finesse and austerity that have few equals in the world.
Pomerol is an extremely fragmented denomination: the entire area measures 12 square kilometers and sees the presence of 151 vignerons. It is a very diverse territory enclosed between the Dordogne and its tributary the Isle: the geological origin dates back to the late Quaternary and it was formed by alluvial deposits from the Massif Central. The soil is made above all of clay, combined with dark stones and sands: in different forms and with many shades of yellow, the clay is present throughout the area often deeply enriched by iron oxide.
Petrus, a matter of terroir
The top of Petrus hill offers the highest concentration of iron oxide in the area with very dark tones, almost black; sloping almost imperceptibly emerges then a light and very compact gravel (graves) or it becomes sandier with a constant presence of stones.
Merlot: a global grape variety?
We can go on now that we have wiped out the main commonplaces about Merlot and its innate characteristics of roundness and softness: not every Merlot is a puffy, super fruity bomb dripping jam from every pore.
The perceived identity of Merlot is quite different from the real one: this grape variety, undoubtedly unique in its native habitat, has become the protagonist of a global homogenization in all corners of the planet, only to be criticized for what is actually the main characteristic on the grape: the ability to easily adapt to different climates and territories in which it was introduced.
Merlot is very precocious and needs a rich soil that holds the water for a long time, and avoid too sudden maturation with excessive concentrations. In addition during the hottest periods tends to compact itself, severing the younger roots and balancing the risk of over-nutrition of the plant. In Pomerol, but not only there, is the bilateral and single Guyot, depending on the age of vineyards and soil characteristics, to allow the better quality productions.
Fermentation takes place mostly in steel tanks, but there is a renaissance of the use of the vitrified concrete also for alcoholic fermentation, which could save energy and avoid the risk of reduction. Maturation takes place in the classic oak barrels, with assembly of different particles made as soon as possible and a standard aging period of 18 months.
Pomerol’s maximum expected yield is 49 hl/ha, with an average productivity of about 40 hl/ha.
Risks in the area: it is located to the far north, around the 45th parallel, so achieving optimum maturation is not so obvious.
Merlot in Italy
We talked a lot about France and Pomerol, but that was a due homage, since France is the homeland of this amazing grape. However, even in Italian Merlot has successfully taken root in many areas.
In Friuli Venezia Giulia, especially in the eastern hills (Colli Orientali del Friuli), Merlot finds favorable conditions, thanks to a cool climate and dark clay in the soil: wines have an elegant profile and are marked by vivacity and freshness, structure, but are never too chubby.
Another area to consider is Tuscany, where Merlot dominates all along the Tyrrhenian area, especially in the soils rich of clay of Val di Cornia and Bolgheri, but do not miss the opportunity to try the bottles produced around Cortona, where was created a specific Cortona DOC.
What does Merlot wine taste like?
The wines that are obtained from Merlot are velvety, intense, with a beautiful dark ruby color, which, with aging, tends to become garnet along the edge.
The bouquet offers a full fruit: mellow, with blueberries, violets, blackcurrant, plums, cherries, tomato leaves, fennel, rhubarb and classical notes of humus. Often you can catch herbs, mint, thyme, oregano and balsamic notes that fades in pine shadows. The main characteristic that makes it recognizable is a herbaceous rhythm in the background that permeates all the wine and blends beautifully with the warmth of the fruit.
At the palate is broad and deep, juicy and dripping blackberries and cherries. In the mouth the tannins are full-bodied, velvety, but the herbaceous and earthy flavors create a layered structure interspersed with a pleasant crunchiness you won’t forget so easily.
Merlot serving temperature
Like all complex and structured red wines serve it at 15-17 degrees. Consider a couple of degrees higher for precious bottles with a few years on the shoulders, at least 10 years.
Suggested food pairings
Merlot is tannica and lushious wine, rich in alcol, estract and deepness, so do not hesitate to pair it to rich, beefy dishes like lamb kebabs, gnocchi with Bolognese, hamburgers, baked lasagna, truffle risotto, pasta Amatriciana.