Merlot, originally form Bordeaux, has been grown in California since 1850 ‘s, but even today most wineries produce a wine that shortchanges the grape variety.
In Bordeaux, Medoc chateaux use it in blending so soften the tannic cabernet sauvignon and provide fruit; in St Emilion and Pomerol it is the main grape with a touch of cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon. On occasion, a very small percentage of petit verdot may be blended.
In California, winemakers produce a highly alcoholic, fruit forward, soft merlot that appeals to young consumers but has no aging potential. Also often, the wine contains four to five grams/liter residual sugar to make the wine somewhat sweet and more appealing to the North American palate, that normally likes sweetness in both food and beverage.
American winemakers are fully aware of North American palate’s sweet leaning preponderance.
Merlot requires well-drained, stony, deep soils, wet winters and dry summers, with a long growing season to give its bets. However, it is a grape variety that adopts exceedingly well to heavy clay and wet soils, and thus has been widely planted in many wine-growing regions throughout the world including Ontario and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. British Columbia’s Black Sage area just north of the 49th parallel has the right soil and climate for merlot.
If planted on the right soil with requisite climatic conditions, and with the help of cabernet franc it can yield spectacular wines that age for decades.
Harvested unripe or partially ripe, it shows vegetal unpleasant aromas and thin body – all undesirable characteristics.
Merlot, produced to a recipe, can be one-dimensional and uninspiring, dark, insipid with no charm or elegance. Planted in the right soil and made according to the demands of the growing season, it can be delightful and cellar worthy.
In Ontario and British Columbia, merlot in good vintages can be absolutely delightful; medium bodied, fragrant, fully dry and displaying plum aromas. Merlots from Ontario are in good vintages go well with roast leg of lamb or grilled lamb chops.
In California Bancroft Ranch Private Reserve 1999, Howell Mountain Merlot form Beringer 2001, Duckhorn 2001, Frog’s Leap 2000, Markham 2000, Arrowood 2000, Shafer 2001, Robert Mondavi 1999 Carneros stand out.
They are all well balanced, fruity, with good acid backbone and superb plum aromas, a characteristic of Napa and Sonoma.
Washington State has very fine merlots.
In other parts of the world Languedoc in southern France grows a lot of fine merlot, as do Australia and New Zealand.