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Know Your Wine Grapes:Merlot

Merlot is a dark blue-coloured wine grape variety, that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines.

Merlot grapesThe name Merlot is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird, probably a reference to the color 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, 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. While Merlot is made across the globe, there tends to be two main styles. The “International style” favoured by many New World wine regions tends to emphasis 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. Researchers at University of California, Davis believe that Merlot is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and is a sibling of Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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