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Merlot: the little blackbird
By Contentious Character News20 March Merlot: the little blackbird
Merlot is like the shy girl at a party. She could be the most interesting person in the room but hides behind the extroverts. The extroverts are cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Too often merlot gets overlooked, but both cabsav and merlot are the most popular red varieties in the world.
The merlot grape did not get its own name until the 1800s but it is now known as a Noble Bordeaux varietal. The thin-skinned grape is dark blue/black and takes its name from the French word for blackbird, “merle”. Some say the merlot leaf is shaped like a monster’s face – and it really is.
Merlot grows well in nearly every region except for the coldest, and does especially well in cooler areas like the Yarra Valley, Margaret River, Adelaide Hills and Canberra. Look for merlot from further afield, such as Italy, Chile, the US and, of course, its Bordeaux homeland of St Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac.
The shy merlot appeals to someone wanting a less powerful wine than cabsav or shiraz. Even so, you can still get bolder merlots. For example, hillside estates produce smaller grapes that make more intense and tannic wines. In the main, Australian merlots are round, soft and fruity, with a silky midpalate.
FRUIT: Black Cherry, Raspberry, Plum
ALSO: Pepper, Olive, Tobacco,
AGING: Usually medium oak (8-12 months)
SERVE: room temperature
The characteristics of merlot change, depending on whether it is grown in warmer or cooler climates. For example, cool-grown merlot has notes of blackberry and plum and takes on more savoury flavours, while warm-grown merlot tastes of chocolate or fruitcake.
You might even mistake a cool climate merlot for a cabernet sauvignon (look in the glass of merlot for an orange rim).
Merlot v cabernet
Merlot is harder to grow than cabernet and, because it is thin-skinned, somewhat sensitive to the environment. They do ripen two weeks earlier than cabernet, which may help out the harried vintner. Compared to cabernet, merlot has fruity plum and cherry flavours, less tannin, a smoother finish, and is cheaper to buy.
Actually, the most famous merlot comes from a tiny Right-Bank Bordeaux estate that produces only merlot for nearly $US2,000 a bottle: Chateau Petrus.
If you’re not sure what’s for dinner tonight, merlot is easier to pair with food. Enjoy a meal of chicken, light meats, or lightly spiced dark meats with merlot. It does not go so well with fish or spicy food, which tend to overwhelm its subtleties.
Another contentious characterWe are confident you will discover an entirely new penchant for merlot with our Cool Canberra 2015 Merlot… Our little blackbird will not be hiding for long.
Did you know a movie character once ruined the fortunes of merlot growers? In the 2004 movie, Sideways, Paul Giamatti playing Miles declared he loved pinor noir but hated merlot. In the following 10 years, Sideways may have cost merlot vintners over $US400 in lost revenue. As someone said, “how merlot can you go?”.