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Adnams Grape of the Month - Merlot

By Sarah Groves, also posted in News on

Grape of the monthIf you've ever had a glass of red wine from Bordeaux, then you're probably familiar with the Merlot grape variety. It's Bordeaux's most widely planted red grape, and is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The grape variety produces fleshy, plummy, fruity wines, with less tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Scientists have determined Merlot's parentage is Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, so it is perhaps no surprise that Merlot and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc marry well together. Merlot dominates the 'Right Bank' of Bordeaux where cooler soils are more of a challenge to the later-ripening and thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon. You can find some of the best examples of Merlot in St Emilion and Pomerol as well as Bourg, Blaye and Fronsac. 'Chais', BordeauxIt's grown widely throughout the world, but its heartland remains the South West of France. There are some lovely examples in Northern Italy, North America (California and Washington State), and South America, too. Try the pure, fruit-filled Chilean examples from Casa Rivas, and the full, dark and broody wines from Gouguenheim in Argentina. Adnams Fine Wine Manager Rob Chase comments, "Has it been a case of inverted snobbery that has made my disregard for Merlot the laughing stock of the tasting room, or something more sinister? Has my maligning of what presumably is the most popular red grape variety on the market made me a marked man? Who knows, or indeed cares, but I can now admit that my slightly jaundiced opinion towards Merlot is on the wane, and the reason for this volte face is now becoming obvious. It is a mixture of several things, but a positive change in both fashion and vintages has much to do with it. Rob ChaseMerlot tends to bring out the worst in winemakers, who relentlessly feel the need to follow fashion. The garagistes have a lot to be answerable for. They were that merry band of Right Bank producers in Bordeaux, who reduced their yields to an unnaturally low level, then proceeded to extracted every ounce of colour, fruit, acid, tannin and sugar from their grapes, to a point where the wine bore more resemblance to jam than to claret. Fashion encourages imitators, and suddenly over-extraction was everywhere – in both the northern and southern hemispheres. If I could date the other origin of my Merlot prejudice, it probably stemmed from the unripe vintages of the ‘90s and early 2000s. Since 2005, things appear to have got a whole lot better in Europe, and winemakers the world over, generally, now seem better able to judge when their Merlots are physiologically ripe, and to pick their fruit when the vegetal character has departed, and as the wholesome ripeness sets in. It is at this point that Merlot, as a single varietal, can hold its head high. I think we have sorted the wheat from the chaff in our list, but it is a knife’s edge that one walks, a fine balancing act – between those dusty, unripe leafy notes and the jammy onslaught that lurks at the other end of the scale." View our Merlot wines, and blends containing Merlot, here.    


Sarah Groves