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The Magic of Merlot
The tremendous popularity of Merlot around the world is very easy to understand. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot makes a wine that is lower in natural acidity and yields a softer, lusher wine with sweeter and rounder fruit, softer tannins and incredible aromatics.
The pinnacle of Merlot is grown in the cool, chalky, limestone and clay soils of southwestern France, in the small but world famous communes of Pomerol and Saint-Emilion; where Merlot has been grown for hundreds of years. These communes are know as the Right Bank, as they are located inland on the right bank of the 2nd largest estuary in Europe; the Gironde. The wines from Pomerol are always very close if not 100% Merlot, and the most famous wines include Ch. Petrus, Ch. Vieux Chateaux Certan and Ch. La Pin. Right next door in Saint-Emilion, Merlot usually makes up about 2/3 of the blend and is blended with Cabernet Franc to produce famous wines the likes of Ch. Ausone, Ch. Cheval Blanc and Ch. Angelus. These are all very formidable wines with fantastic aging potential and revered around the world.
On the other side of Bordeaux's Gironde estuary is the Medocian peninsula where Merlot takes on partnership in the blend of some of the worlds most legendary Cabernet Sauvignons, lending its lush sweetness and fantastic floral notes to the First Growth wines of Ch. Mouton and Lafite Rothschild, Ch. Latour, Ch. Margaux and Ch. Haut Brion.
Merlot is a thin skinned grape that is also a bit more sensitive to grow compared to Cabernet Sauvignon as it is an early ripening grape that can be susceptible to rot, mildew and over ripeness in difficult growing conditions. There is an amusing phrase that is used in Bordeaux when it comes to the difficulty of growing Merlot; "It can be under ripe at 10am, perfectly ripe at noon and over ripe at 2pm!" Some of the most difficult tasks in life are worth the work and Merlot is certainly worth it.
The home of world class is no longer just in France. The California wine boom of the 1970's 80's and 90's was in large part due to the great success of the huge amounts of Merlot that had been planted and then consumed in record amounts by the American public. The consistently warm weather and coastal influence in California wine country almost completely eliminates any growing problems Merlot encounters in Europe. In California Merlot flourishes today and carries on a great tradition started by Wineries like Sterling and Matanzas Creek; and continues on today by great wines like Lewis, Shafer, Pahlmeyer and Duckhorn.
The worlds thirst for Merlot continues to thrive and good Merlot is also made in countries Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia as well as the State of Washington and the Finger Lakes region of the State of New York.
Cheers to a glass of Merlot!