One of the six Bordeaux grapes, Merlot is a dark skinned grape and one of the most popular red wine varietals. While most famous for its production in Bordeaux, Merlot is also widely grown in California, specifically Napa Valley, Sonoma, and the Central Coast, along with South America. Merlot grows in loose clusters of larger berries and has a medium tannin structure. Merlot has a naturally high sugar content and low acidity. Merlot grapes need to struggle to maintain their acidity and grow best in well-draining clay soil. Because of its thin skins, Merlot is susceptible to mildew, rot, and frost.
The flavor of Merlot depends greatly on where it was grown and the preference and style of the winemaker. When planted in a cold climate, Merlot has flavors of strawberry, and plum with hints of tobacco. When grown in a moderate climate, Merlot has bold flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and plum. When cultivated in a hot climate, flavors of dried fruit, chocolate and plum are more prominent.
When the fruit is harvested early, the wines have more acid and are produced with a more moderate alcohol level. The wine will have lighter fruit flavors such as raspberries and strawberries with a sometimes herbal characteristic. When the fruit is harvested late, the wine will be higher in alcohol content and very full bodied with deep rich flavors of blackberries, plums, and cherries.
Because if its deep flavor and medium tannin structure, Merlot pairs well with Italian sausage, meatballs, hamburgers, chicken, tomato sauce, charcuterie, earthy flavors such as lamb or mushroom, pork chops, roast turkey, and ham. The higher alcohol of Merlot can bring out the capsaicin in spicy foods and is not a good match. When pairing with cheese, aged Gouda, Camembert, Toussaint, and Pecorino Toscano are good pairings.