Explore one of the world's most important grapes - Merlot - from the 100% expressions to the various blends we carry!
Buy a few bottles from this list and create a blind-tasting challenge at home! ;)
15 years ago the film Sideways may have hurt the reputation of Merlot, but as with most vines and wines the story is always evolving. It's never simple.
Yes, Merlot is generally a rich and smooth wine (often high but well-balanced tannic structure, allowing the fruit notes to shine up front) .... but everything from the climate to the soil, or the winemaker's decisions in the cellar (and of course the blending varieties) can impact the final wine.
And, as most serious wine lovers will confirm, there's no doubt that Merlot is responsible for some of the world's greatest wines.
In the right 'hands' it can offer a range of styles from elegant and complex, to boisterous and bold.
So, what are you waiting for? Let's explore MERLOT.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The dark purple colour of Merlot fits well with its name, which translates from old French language for young blackbird.
In general, the warm locations for grape production create Merlot wines with dark plum or chocolate flavours, while those in cooler conditions can hint at wild strawberry.
Given the range of climates and terrains across the Italian peninsula it’s no surprise that a Merlot from Italy can mean very different things.
Merlot can be used in blends to create a more powerful and silky wine, often with other international varieties, but it’s also paired with those grapes endemic to the different regions of Italy for a more uniquely Italian interpretation.
The relatively cooler conditions in Trentino, in the north, make for wonderfully elegant 'mountain Merlot' blends (such as the Bordeaux-style FRATAGRANDA and ROSSO FAYE) while the vineyards of Umbria and Tuscany, in central Italy, offer warmer conditions to ripen Merlot and it's blending partners like Sangiovese for Super Tuscans (such as FELCIAINO and TICCHE) or local healthy-heart grape Sagrantino for the MONTEFALCO ROSSO DOC and it's cousin ROSSOBASTARDO.
Merlot wine is considered an easy-drinking wine, for its soft and elegant character, so pairs well with most food.
As a medium-bodied wine it goes well with roast chicken but also darker meats with light spices. The ripe fruit notes can even stand up to some curries, but be careful to stay away from high-tannin blends that can make spicy dishes seem astringent.
Don't miss the chance to try a rich, smooth Merlot with chocolate. Cacao notes in the wine can be wonderfully enhanced by a bite of high quality dark chocolate, maybe at the end of the meal.
Top Tip: Pair with a UK style Chili Con Carne, which really suits those chocolate notes.
FURTHER STUDIES ...
Here are some of our favourite resources for studying wine or grapes, from reading materials to YouTube links:
* Read up on the grape and its most famous wine styles at WINE FOLLY.
* Geek out on the grape with Jancis Robinson.
* Subscribe to the SOMM.tv channel (packed full of info with movies, shorts, vineyard visits, blind tastings and so much more) and checkout the episode on 'Right Bank' Merlot here.
Try a varietal wine (100% Merlot, or the main grape focus) to get to know the typical character of this important grape.
The two wines below are very different winemaking styles, so a fun comparison!
MERLOT Liena 2016
Very limited production wine, from a single vineyard, to showcase the best expression of this varietal in the classic Bolgheri terroir of award-winning Chiappini family estate. Buy a bottle of MERLOT Liena 2016 here.
An appassimento Merlot (an important wine style* famously used for the production of Amarone) from acclaimed family estate Fasoli Gino, established in 1925 ... the parent winery behind Tasi. Buy a bottle of CALLE 2015 here.
* Appassimento is a process of drying the grapes to reduce down to 40% of the original liquid, concentrating the flavours and sugars, which can take 100+ days of drying. This gives the wine its signature deep, rich character!
NOVE LEGI 2017
From the new line of Barbanera wines - La Forconate - NOVE LEGNI (referring to the nine woods on the estate) is an elegant, full-bodied, complex red, and a great example of Tuscan Merlot, aged for 24 months in oak. Expect smooth tannins and ripe fruit notes (blackberry, cherry) alongside tobacco and cacao. Buy a bottle of NOVE LEGNI 2017 here.
THE ART OF THE BLEND
There are a wide range of Merlot blends, from the classic Bordeaux varieties, to Super Tuscans ... so here's a few to get you started:
Starting in the mountains ... the flagship wine from family winery Pravis is a Bordeaux blend - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This is a perfect Italian wine for lovers of the French style, yet it brings a special elegance and freshness unique to wines of the Dolomites. Buy a bottle of FRATAGRANDA 2013 here.
Kicking off the more classic Tuscany blends, this wine brings together Sangiovese and the much-loved international grape Merlot. It matures in barriques for at least 12 months. The typical red fruit notes of Sangiovese are joined by some darker fruit character (hints of blackberry), with notes of chocolate and tobacco leaf. It's a new wine from the Barbanera family and was named after the grandfather of the winery who survived through tough times in the 1930s selling his wine wherever he could #wartimewine! Fast forward to now and this delicious blend would surely make him proud! 😜 Buy a bottle of TICHHE 2017 here.
This is the 'baby brother' to Giovanni Chiappini's flagship red, GUADO DE GEMOLI (see the latest arrival 2017 vintage here), blending together the classic Bolgheri mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. The boutique estate of Giovanni Chiappini (run with the help of his daughter Martina) is happily situated right next door to the famous estate of Ornellaia and benefits from the same fabulous climate, exposure, soil etc. This is a perfect example of the importance of sourcing great quality wines at a very fair price point, compared to others that arguably push up prices simply due to their branding. As the winery explains, this wine boasts "an outstanding structure, able to evolve gradually and to refine itself even over years". Buy a bottle of FELCIAINO 2018 here.
MONTEFALCO ROSSO 2012
Let's move beyond Tuscany ... This is an important blend from Umbria - the land-locked region of central Italy. The local Sangiovese grape is co-fermented with international grapes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus some of Umbria's unique endemic vine, Sagrantino. Expect a smooth and fruity red, with some peppery notes from the Sangiovese. Buy a bottle of MONTEFALCO ROSSO 2012 here.
This delicious blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and late harvest Sagrantino is the winemaker's most popular wine, with the late Pope on a list of celebrity drinkers! As well as a catchy name this wine is addictively easy-drinking; smooth and fruity, with peppery notes. The use of late harvest Sagrantino Buy a bottle of ROSSOBASTARDO 2016 here.
MONTEFALCO ROSSO Riserva 2014
The riserva Montefalco Rosso is made from the best selection of grapes and undergoes a longer ageing in barrel. The layers of complexity in this red require extended decanting or breathing to open up ... and be sure to keep swirling in your glass, to really let its character show. Buy a bottle of MONTEFALCO ROSSO Riserva 2014 here.
MAGNUM - the big bastard and the big bunny :)
ROSSOBASTARDO 2016 magnum
Planning a dinner party? "GO BIG & STAY HOME". This red blend is a very popular choice for parties (or gifts) as it works so well for 'newbies' and 'aficionados' alike. Accessible for those who don't do well with an overly tannic wine, yet layered and interesting for those keen to explore something different. Order a magnum to be sure all your guests have enough for seconds!! :) Get your magnum of ROSSOBASTARDO (150cl) here.
ROSSO FAYE 2015 magnum
One of our all time favourites for dinner parties... in fact, it's been our Christmas Day wine for about 5 years now! This red is a classic Bordeaux blend but with the addition of the local Lagrein wine, which I feel gives it a little extra kick of 'energy' and fresh character. Get your magnum of ROSSO FAYE (150cl) here.
Don't forget the pink...
LA MERIGGIA 2018
Like a glass of rosato on a sunny afternoon? This Marche rosato is a delicious blend of Merlot, Syrah and the local grape Montepulciano (not to be confused with the wine named Vino di Montepulciano, which is a Sangiovese wine of Tuscany). Buy a bottle of LA MERIGGIA 2018 here.
There are more than 20 wines in the collection of Merlot varietals and Merlot blends, so check this link for more options.
If you need helping deciding where to start, please do contact me for personal recommendations and advice.