Merlot and its aromas

Merlot, almost a fruit juice for adults. A noble wine without roughness!

This is a definition that well summarizes the character of the Merlot grape. Among wine ethusiasts, it is sometimes described as a wine with limited structure. But this is not true: it is a “soft” wine that can also be very rich, “sensual” and fulfilling in its more ambitious versions.

It is a versatile grape variety, one of the most widespread in the world, that is characterized by a unique aromatic profile: plum, black currant and roses. And when this wine is aged in wood barrels, it acquires new aromatic notes which give it more “personality": cocoa, tobacco, caramel, cinnamon, vanilla, mace (the outer coating of the nutmeg seed) and cardamom.

The Merlot varietal grows well in colder climates as it is adapted to damp and cold soils, and it germinates, blooms and matures earlier than other noble varieties, developing, juicy and aromatic grape bunches. It usually gives high yields. On the other hand, this varietal has large grapes with a thin skin, which go rotten easily and it suffers peronospora. It does not do well in dry summer climates. 

Its success across the globe is also due to the fact that it can work well in blends with wines obtained by other grape varieties because it “softens” and “smooths” their roughness. As such, Merlot can produce excellent pure Merlot wines, but it is also the base for some of the most famous red blends being structured, aromatic, and possessing good aging potential. Merlot is a great partner for other grapes because it brings its own character but it also exalts the other varieties' tastes.

The city of Bordeaux is considered to be the origin of this grape variety and the place where it produces the best results in terms of wine. It is a grape variety closely linked to the Cabernet family.

In the Gironde area the grapes adapted to different micro-climates giving rise to different wines: some are the prototype of easy to drink wines with strong aromas of fruit and drupe fruit and some are top quality wines. In fact in the area of the Libournais, Merlot wine was renowned as early as the eighteenth century for its aromas: the complexity of the terroir in Saint-Émilion divided by hills and plateaus exalts aromas of mature red fruits with prunes, raisins, rose hips, violet, and touches of menthol, fern, coriander and thyme.

The Pomerol countryside with its rich clay and sand content and the presence of ferrous deposits interprets a “typical and safe” wine with notes of blackberry, plum, pencil shavings, coffee, chocolate and truffle.

Merlot is found in the territorial extension of Lalande de Pomerol with a more discreet aromatic profile and in the Fronsadais with “cerises noirs,” aroma wines, that were already appreciated at the court of Versailles; it was also recognized in less “commercial” denominations of the Right Bank such as Bourg and Blaye where wines with subtle floral and fruity aromas originate.

It has been planted in various Italian regions for over a century and a half, and has been included in the ampelographic collection of the "Royal School of Viticulture and Enology of Conegliano" from the start; widespread in particular in Alto-Adige, Veneto and Friuli, where it exalts in addition to the classic olfactory range, respectively spicy aromas of black pepper and balsamic, fruity features of blueberry, blackberry and sour cherry, herbaceous pepper, hay and musk. It was subsequently introduced in Lombardy and Piedmont, as well as in the Bolognese Hills which represent a historical enclave for the variety, albeit with few really dedicated producers. Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily, with vineyards located in the most prestigious areas, produce oenological profiles with aromatic nuances of black cherry and undergrowth berries, notes of eucalyptus, myrtle and rosemary for the cuvées originating from complex soils and maritime microclimates.

Merlot is an essential varietal for Italian-speaking Switzerland which has grown it with excellent results. There are very varied quality wines in the Sopraceneri area and prestigious wines in Mendrisiotto area by virtue of a highly suited pedoclimate for the variety that reaches defined and expressive aromatic peaks of morello cherry, fern, ivy, aromatic herbs, cedar wood and sweet tobacco!

Médoc Noir is the name by which Merlot is known in eastern Europe. It is grown from the Dalmatian coast on whose slopes it generates wines with aromas of ripe yellow plums, to the Balkan area distributed between Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, used alone or in blends.

The new world has consecrated its importance:

    • In the state of Washington's extensive Columbia Valley and in the Yakima and Walla Walla sub-zones, Merlot declares its aromatic status with marked notes of mint, medicinal herbs, wild strawberries, blackberry and licorice.
    • California continues the path along the sensory trajectory representing the variability of Merlot that finds its habitat in Napa Valley: the district of Oakville offers wines with an intoxicating scent of olives; the prestigious cru of Rutherford with the particular soil of gravel and ash evokes the emblem of the red wine of the west coast with the aromatic palette based on ripe berries, menthol, peppercorns, cocoa, roasted coffee; Stag's Leap District is a denomination characterized by a warm and dry climate and together with a reddish soil it provides a profile that betrays a sweet and circular nose: blackberry jam, malt and cinnamon!
    • Merlot from South America is produced in Chile with the two most representative areas; Casablanca to the north along the coast with a cool climate and wine with notes of blueberry, raspberry, eucalyptus and mint; and Colchagua, a sub-region of the Central Valley with clay soils, a fresh and breezy Mediterranean climate and expresses wine that recalls the richness of fruitiness of the Girondine Right Bank jam, persimmon, balsamic and vegetal notes.
    • Southern Australia grows the varietal in the renowned Eden Valley sub-zone and the more articulated Adelaide Hills and produces dense and elegant Merlot wines, whose main aromatic markers present notes of plum jam, currant and chocolate.
    • Hawke's Bay is the eastern district of the New Zealand's north island that beautifully interprets the typical Bordeaux style Merlot; perpetually sunny and with rainy winters it finds in the gravelly soil with high drainage and permeability an aromatic profile of small berries, rose, nutmeg, but which is distinguished by a territorial stamp of alfalfa and dry leaves.
    • Cape Town hosts by proximity the two most famous wine-growing regions of South Africa; Stellenbosch, the beating heart of production and the best terroirs combines granite soils and sea breezes, producing aromatic profiles of raspberry and pepper, sometimes with a more spicy character in the hottest years. The region of Paarl has looser soils in the higher slopes where it grows Merlot with an intensely fruity character of blackberry, with attractive notes of toasted coffee and Havana cigar.

Merlot is a varietal that produces one wine and many wines, so similar yet complex. It produces soft, fruity and easy to drink wines appreciated worldwide by wine lovers, and yet it also produces wines of excellence with complexity and numerous aromatic nuances appreciated by wine experts alike. 

- Luisito Perazzo


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