Merlot is a dark blue-colored wine grape variety that is
used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. The name Merlot is
thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird,
probably a reference to the color of the grape. Its softness and
"fleshiness", combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular
grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, which tends
to be higher in tannin.
Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and
Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine, and it
is the most widely planted grape in the Bordeaux wine regions. Merlot is also
one of the most popular red wine varietals in many markets. This flexibility
has helped to make it one of the world's most planted grape varieties.
While Merlot is made across the globe, there tends to be two
main styles. The "International style" favored by many New World wine
regions tends to emphasize late harvesting to gain physiological ripeness and
produce inky, purple colored wines that are full in body with high alcohol and
lush, velvety tannins with intense, plum and blackberry fruit. While this
international style is practiced by many Bordeaux wine producers, the
traditional "Bordeaux style" of Merlot involves harvesting Merlot
earlier to maintain acidity and producing more medium-bodied wines with moderate
alcohol levels that have fresh, red fruit flavors (raspberries, strawberries)
and potentially leafy, vegetal notes.