Merlot is one of the most popular red wine grapes in the world. Ripening early in the season and relatively easy to grow, it creates a medium bodied wine which often shows flavors of berries, darker fruit such as plums and even earthier tones in select soils. Vintners like the grape because it grows to a relatively large size while being in loose fitting bunches, which makes it less vulnerable to molding and other problems late in the growing season. It’s medium body also makes it both food friendly as well as gentle enough on the palate to be appealing for wine drinkers of all experience levels.
Currently, the 3rd most planted varietal in the world (behind only Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) Merlot has experienced something of a crisis of confidence of late. As more new world wine producers have producer bigger and bigger wines Cabernet Sauvignon has become the true king of grapes. Merlot has always fit comfortably into the second spot among red wines, until 2005 when Pinot Noir started taking market share in large amounts. Part of this is the improved growing practices and modern technology which have made Pinot Noir (historically the most difficult grape to grow) more consistent in year to year taste tests, but it is also a problem with marketing and winery choices.
To start Pinot Noir was helped tremendously by the movie Sideways which showed Pinot Noir to be a wine drinkers grape, while Merlot was strictly for people that did not know any better. Although this can be partially true, Merlot is not given the same type of care, attention and small yields afforded to the average Pinot Noir vineyard. When it is at places like Keenan Winery and Twombey in Napa California the results are spectacular. The resulting Merlot is not only incredibly powerful in berry flavors, but will show hints of spice and pepper on the finish while offering a well rounded mouth feel that continues to be easily paired with most food dishes.