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What is Merlot? History, Types, and Pairings

Merlot is a red wine grape variety that is grown around the world.

It is one of the most popular wine grapes and is known for its soft, approachable style. Merlot is the second most popular red wine in America after Cabernet Sauvignon. It is used both as a blending grape and for varietal wines.

What is Merlot?

The name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, which is probably a reference to the color of the grape.

Merlot is a dark blue-colored grape variety that produces dry, medium-bodied wine with soft tannins and juicy dark fruit flavors. It is capable of running the gamut from fruit-forward and sweet with oak to more structured and nuanced.

History of Merlot

Merlot has its origins in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is commonly used in red wine blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc, like the celebrated Bordeaux blend.

However, Merlot is now grown in many other parts of the world, including the United States, Chile, Italy, and Australia.

Merlot has become a popular wine grape variety due to its versatility, approachability, and ability to pair well with a wide range of foods.

Merlot Characteristics

Merlot is a red wine grape that produces a range of characteristics in the wine.

Merlot is a versatile and approachable wine that is enjoyed by many wine lovers around the world. Whether you are new to wine or a seasoned connoisseur, Merlot is a wine that is worth exploring.

Here are some of the key characteristics that define Merlot:

Flavor Profile

Merlot is known for its soft, fruity flavors that are often described as plummy or black cherry-like.

The wine can also have notes of chocolate, coffee, and herbs, depending on the region and the winemaking process. Merlot is typically less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes it a popular choice for those who prefer a smoother, more approachable wine.

Aroma Profile

Merlot has a complex aroma profile that can include notes of red fruit, such as raspberry and strawberry, as well as darker fruit flavors like blackberry and black cherry.

The wine can also have hints of vanilla, oak, and spice, depending on the aging process and the region where it was produced.

Color and Appearance

Merlot wine is typically a deep, ruby red color that can range from semi-opaque to opaque.

The wine is generally lighter in color than Cabernet Sauvignon and has a medium body with soft tannins. Merlot is often described as having a velvety texture that is easy to drink and pairs well with a variety of foods.

Merlot Production

Merlot is a red wine grape variety that is grown in many parts of the world.

The production of Merlot involves several stages, including growing the grapes, harvesting and processing them, and using various winemaking techniques to create the final product.

Growing Regions

Merlot grapes are grown in various regions around the world, including France, Italy, the United States, Chile, and Romania.

The grape thrives in a variety of climates and soil types, which makes it a versatile crop for winemakers. Some of the most notable growing regions for Merlot include Bordeaux in France, Tuscany in Italy, and California in the United States.

Harvesting and Processing

Merlot grapes are typically harvested in the early to mid-fall, depending on the region and climate.

The grapes are picked by hand or machine and then sorted to remove any damaged or unripe fruit. Once the grapes have been sorted, they are crushed to release the juice and pulp.

The juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, depending on the winemaker’s preference.

Winemaking Techniques

Winemakers use a variety of techniques to create Merlot wine, including maceration, oak aging, and blending.

red grapes macerated in production

Maceration involves soaking the grape skins and juice together to extract color and flavor from the skins. Oak aging involves aging the wine in oak barrels, which can impart flavors of vanilla, spice, and toast.

Blending involves mixing Merlot with other grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, to create a unique flavor profile.

Merlot Food Pairings

Cheese Pairings

When pairing Merlot with cheese, it’s important to consider the weight and intensity of the cheese.

Lighter cheeses like Brie and Gouda pair well with lighter Merlots, while stronger cheeses like Cheddar and Blue Cheese pair well with bolder, more full-bodied Merlots.

Meat Pairings

Merlot’s smooth tannins and fruity flavors make it a great match for these meats.

When pairing Merlot with meat, consider the preparation method and seasoning. For example, grilled or roasted meats pair well with bolder, more full-bodied Merlots, while lighter Merlots pair well with dishes that are more lightly seasoned.

Vegetarian Pairings

When pairing Merlot with vegetarian dishes, consider the flavors and textures of the dish.

Merlot’s fruitiness can complement the sweetness of roasted vegetables, while its smooth tannins can balance out the acidity of tomato-based dishes. Mushroom dishes pair well with Merlot’s earthy flavors, while bean dishes pair well with Merlot’s fruity notes.

Merlot Variations

Merlot is a versatile grape variety that can produce a range of wine styles.

Here are some of the most common variations of Merlot:

Blended Merlot Wines

Merlot is often blended with other grape varieties to create unique and complex wines.

Some of the most common blends include:

  • Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon: This blend is popular in Bordeaux and produces wines with a balance of fruitiness and structure.
  • Merlot-Malbec: This blend is common in Argentina and produces wines with a deep color and rich fruit flavors.
  • Merlot-Petit Verdot: This blend is popular in California and produces wines with a deep color and intense flavors.

Single Varietal Merlot Wines

Some winemakers choose to produce Merlot wines that are made entirely from Merlot grapes.

These wines can range from light and fruity to rich and complex, depending on the winemaking techniques used. Some of the characteristics of single varietal Merlot wines include:

  • Soft tannins
  • Moderate acidity
  • Medium to full body
  • Flavors of plum, black cherry, and chocolate

Merlot-Based Dessert Wines

Merlot grapes can also be used to produce sweet dessert wines.

These wines are typically fortified with brandy or another spirit to increase their alcohol content and preserve their sweetness. Some of the characteristics of Merlot-based dessert wines include:

  • Sweet, fruity flavors
  • High alcohol content
  • Flavors of dried fruit, caramel, and chocolate


Merlot is a versatile and popular red wine that is enjoyed by many. Its soft and approachable style, along with its ability to take on new characteristics depending on where the vines are grown, make it a favorite among wine lovers.

While it is often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot has its own unique flavor profile that includes dark fruits like black cherries, plums, and blackberries, as well as notes of chocolate, tobacco, and spice.

Its taste can vary depending on the climate in which it is grown, with cooler regions producing wines with more earthy and herbal flavors, and warmer regions yielding bigger fruit flavors.

Merlot is a great wine to pair with a variety of foods, including red meats, pasta dishes, and strong cheeses. Its soft tannins and medium body make it a good choice for those who prefer a less intense wine.

Overall, Merlot is a delicious and approachable wine that is sure to please a wide range of palates. Whether enjoyed on its own or paired with a meal, it is a wine that is worth trying for any wine lover.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Lauren McKenna

Lauren is a soon to be Temple University graduate. Her love of travel has introduced her to food and drinks from all over the world. She provides MyBartender with a global view of all things alcohol.

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