Australian Merlot wine regional and flavour profile



Merlot tastes and aromas

Flavours and aromas of plums, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, currant, mint, tobacco, with with cocoa, black pepper and tea-leaf tones

Merlot mouthfeel

Velvety, low tannins, medium bodied, high alcohol

Cellaring potential of Merlot

Many commercial merlots are designed to be soft, fruit driven styles to drink within a couple of years, and are not designed, nor have the structure, to age well. Often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, they share many high quality regions that allow the wines to age well with careful winemaker influence. Regions that Merlot may age well from include Coonawarra.

Facts about Merlot

  • The name Merlot is said to derive from the old French word for little blackbird: merle. Many people believe this is probably due to the blue/black colour of the grape, but others believe it’s more likely that this sweet, early ripening grape saw more than its fair share of scavenging blackbirds.
  • Merlot is also one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets, nationally and internationally, making it one of the worlds most planted red grape varieties. As of 2004, Merlot was estimated to be the third most grown variety globally, with an increasing trend.
  • One of the world’s rarest (and most expensive) wines – Chateau Petrus – comes from Pomerol on the Right Bank, and is almost exclusively Merlot. (By “most expensive”, a Pétrus Vintage 1961 case sold for $144,000 in a 2011 auction)!
  • While it is officially reported to have been planted in Australia as early as 1923, it appears not to have graced many commercial radars until 1980.
  • Due to the five overlapping lobes of the leaf, and the rounded hollow at the base of each lobe, the Merlot leaf is said to resemble a monster’s face
  • “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any #%*$ing Merlot!” Perhaps the most widely quoted wine-related line from 2004 comedy “Sideways” has been blamed for knocking sales of Merlot, well, sideways almost as much as the wine-country road movie set the market for Pinot Noir on fire.

Australian regions that produce Merlot

Merlot is a versatile variety that is grown right across Australia though it prefers climates that are not excessively cold. Merlot from warmer inland regions like the McLaren Vale, Orange and Hilltops is often soft textured with ripe, red berry flavours. Cooler and coastal climates like the Yarra Valley and Margaret River produce Merlot that is more savoury with hints of vanilla and cocoa.

The grape has been growing in favour among New Zealand producers due to its ability to ripen better, with less green flavours, than Cabernet Sauvignon. Other regions with significant plantings include Auckland, Marlborough and Martinborough.

France is home to nearly two thirds of the world’s total plantings of Merlot. Beyond France it is also grown in Italy (where it is the country’s 5th most planted grape), California, Romania, Argentina, Bulgaria, Turkey, Canada, Chile, Greece, South Africa, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovenia, Mexico and other parts of the United States such as Washington and Long Island. It grows in many regions that also grow Cabernet Sauvignon but tends to be cultivated in the cooler portions of those areas (in areas that are too warm, Merlot will ripen too early).

What food to pair with Merlot

The diversity of Merlot can lend itself to a wide array of matching options. Cabernet-like Merlots pair well with many of the same things that Cabernet Sauvignon would pair well with, such as grilled and charred meats.

Softer, fruitier Merlots (particularly those with higher acidity from cooler climate regions like Orange and New Zealand) share many of the same food-pairing affinities with Pinot noir and go well with dishes like salmon, mushroom-based dishes and greens like chard and radicchio.

Light-bodied Merlots can go well with shellfish like prawns or scallops, especially if wrapped in a protein-rich food such as bacon or prosciutto. Merlot tends not to go well with strong and blue-veined cheeses that can overwhelm the fruit flavours of the wine. The capsaicins of spicy foods can accentuate the perception of alcohol in Merlot and make it taste more tannic and bitter.

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