Your Guide to Merlot

Your Guide to Merlot

Did you know that Merlot is actually the second most planted grape variety in the world?

First discovered in France in 1783, this variety was pulled into the spotlight by the famous wine region, Bordeaux. 

Pour a glass of the Smithbrook Single Vineyard Merlot and read on as we explore this early-ripening, mellow variety.

Why you should try a Merlot wine

Merlot is one of the world's most popular red wine varieties.

It is most famously associated with some of the most expensive wines in the world, produced in Bordeaux's prestigious right bank appellations of as St. Emilion, Pomerol, and Fronsac. In fact, Petrus (a Chateau in Pomerol, Bordeaux) is one of the most highly coveted red wines in the world, with bottles regularly selling for over $5,000.

Fun fact:

Petrus is also one of the most counterfeited wines in the world!

Although Merlot experienced a large decrease in popularity in the mid-2000s (thanks, Sideways and Paul Giamatti), Merlot is actually considered one of the noble grape varieties – and deservedly so too.

Merlot is known for softer tannins and a plush texture, which means it is well-suited to a range of foods, as well as being approachable to drink on its own.

What does Merlot taste like?

Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine, and (depending on climate and winemaking style) that medium trend generally carries on to other characteristics too – think medium acidity, medium tannins and medium alcohol. 

Largely known for its dark fruit profile of raspberry, plum and cherry, Merlot wines also have soft, plush tannins and spice, which means wines can be much more approachable in their youth compared to other high-tannin reds. 

How long does Merlot cellar for?

Due to Merlot's soft, supple tannins, Merlot can be drunk much younger than other fuller-bodied red wines.

High quality Merlot can also be cellared for decades; wines will evolve with age, producing rich tertiary characters such as chocolate, cedar and cured meats. 

Merlot and Blends

Merlot has historically been used as a blending variety in Bordeaux's Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant left bank, and this trend has also made its way around the world as the term 'Bordeaux blend' has become synonymous with high-quality, expensive and collectable red wines.

As a variety, Merlot ripens much earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon  Merlot fruit usually develops higher sugar levels, riper tannins and full flavour weeks before Cabernet.

Merlot also has lower levels of methoxypyrazines (green, herbaceous characters) compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and this, along with its ripe, rich fruit profile, helps to mellow out Cabernet Sauvignon – especially in difficult vintages.

Due to its plush tannins and soft texture, Merlot can also help red blends to be more approachable in their youth.

In Italy, Merlot will often be blended with Sangiovese in the famous region of Chianti, Tuscany and in Spain it can also be blended with Tempranillo. 

Fun fact:

Merlot was first produced from the spontaneous reproduction of Cabernet Franc and a very rare variety called Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. This means Merlot actually shares half of its DNA with Cabernet Sauvignon! 

Merlot around the world

Merlot is the second most planted grape variety in the world with over 270,000 hectares of vines planted across France, America, Chile, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and right at home in Australia. 

Merlot was first brought to Australia from California in the early 1990s and today it is planted in almost every wine region across the country, including our very own Pemberton in Western Australia.

Merlot is widely nicknamed the 'chameleon' of the wine world – there are a huge number of styles and expressions depending on the climate it's planted in. 

Warmer climates produce more fruit-forward Merlot with ripe dark fruits, a medium- to full-body and lush spice lift. 

Cooler climate Merlot tends to be more savoury, with a bright red fruit profile, herbaceous notes, a lighter body and soft, elegant tannins. 

Smithbrook 2020 Single Vineyard Merlot

The cooler climate of Pemberton allows for the slow ripening of this classic Bordeaux variety, producing exquisitely supple and silky tannins alongside a bright and juicy acidity – hallmarks of high-quality Merlot wines. 

On the palate this wine is bursting with blueberry and plums and layered with sweet vanilla oak and warm spice. A light leafy hint and an earthy minerality suspend the soft tannins to produce a medium-bodied wine with delicious weight and texture. 

"A plush medium bodied Merlot. Red berry and fruit cake aromas with a little prune juice addition. The palate is soft, supported with fine chalky tannins and understated vanillin oak. Rounded and fruit driven. Ideal for current drinking. Bottle age has introduced a layer of cedary and slightly spicy complexity."
- 92 PointsRay Jordan Wine Guide 2024

"Deep ruby with a purple tint at the rim. Nose lifts with ripe blood plum and graphite aromas. Palate fills with ripe plums, leafy hints and a dark slate minerality that adds interest to the flow. Tannins are fine-grained to caress and drive it long. Very good value here."

- 91 Points, The Real Review 2022

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