The biddies continue their tour of the noble varieties with merlot. Merlot produces very smooth wine which is often blended with other varietals to lessen any harshness. It’s featured in some of the biddies favorite Super Tuscan wines. Tune in to learn about where to find 100% merlots, the best blends, and the Sideways movie drama.

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Sources:

Wine Grapes; Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Jose Vouillamoz 

Love to Know, Italian Merlot Wine Guide

Italy Abroad, Merlot

Maluni Wine, Chile Red Wines

Vivino, Chilean Merlot

Merlot: Its history, its origins, its taste, how to pair it… (blancaterra.com)

In These States, Merlot Is a Star in Its Own Right | Wine Enthusiast Magazine

CA Wines › (capstonecalifornia.com)

Merlot | Swiss Wine

WHITE MERLOT: THE SPECIALTY OF TICINO | Vini Delea EU

Study Notes On Merlot:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

“A fleshy, widely plante, relatively early ripening member of the Bordeaux family”

BACKGROUND/BASICS

  • In the 1990s, it was discovered that Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes to Merlot but the other parent was unknown for quite some time 
  • In 2009, the other was discovered
    • It was an unknown cultivar that was first sampled in 1996 in Saint-Suliac near Saint-Malo in northern Brittany where vines were cultivated at the end of the Middle Ages
    • Cuttings were taken from an abandoned grapevine growing on the slope of a hill called Mont Garrot
    • A few years later, four more plants of this variety were discovered in the Charente planted in front of houses
    • Locally the vines were called Raisin de la Madeleine or Madeleina because the grapes usually ripened around Sainte-Madeleine’s holiday which is July 22
    • Now named Magdeleine Noire des Charentes to avoid confusion with other Madeleine grapes (this is the mother grape)
  • Merlot Gris is a color mutation, Merlot Blanc is a child of Merlot and Folle Blanche but has pretty much disappeared
  • Half brother to Cab Sav, Malbec, and Carmenere
  • It ripens easily so is grown more widely than Cabernet Sauvignon
  • A majority of merlot grown worldwide is blended with either or both Cabernets to provide fruit and flesh to counterbalance their tannic structures

ORGANOLEPTICS

  • Dry and commonly have a smooth, fruity finish
  • These wines are softer than cabs but do have some present tannins, a medium to full body, medium to full alcohol content and low to medium acidity
  • Fruity flavors reminiscent of black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and plum

HISTORY

  • Earliest mention is in 1783-4 “Merlau.. Fait un vin noir et excellent, et il abonde dans un bon terrain” (Merlau makes a black and excellent wine and is productive in a good soil”
  • Mentioned in Libournes in the Gironde 
  • However, its origins date back to the 14th century where the grape variety was known as crabatut noir
  • The modern spelling of “merlot” first appeared in 1824 in a treatise about Medoc wines
    • This also provides the most convincing hypothesis for the origin of the name
    • Merlau is a variety of blackbird in Occitan and apparently loves to eat these style of grape
    • Also was called “the seedling from the river” because it was thought to have been born on the islands in the river Garonne 

FRANCE – CALLA

  • Most planted grape in France
  • Originally was considered a secondary grape “best suited” for blending and not a good stand alone varietal
  • Episode 30: Bordeaux
  • “If Cabernet is King.. then Merlot is queen… being feminine, softer, more rounded elegance” bleh
  • Bordeaux:
    • Predominant variety in most red wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol (the area in which the variety originated)
    • Grown on the right bank because merlot loves limestone and clay soils
  • 1956 – The Annus Horribilis
    • A terrible frost hit France destroying many Merlot and Malbec vines
    • Many attempts to replant the vines were stopped by diseases and laws
    • In the 1970s the French government banned all new planting of Merlot vines until 1975 when the ban was lifted
    • They banned Merlot since merlot plantings were consistently being plagued by rot year after year but with surging worldwide popularity, they brought it back
  • Grown in the southwest of France is Bergerac and Cahors (a common blending partner with Malbec)
  • Widely planted in the Langedoc where it makes juicy and plump table wines

ITALY – KARA

  • Merlot arrived at the end of 1800, initially in Friuli Venezia Giulia, and then quickly spread to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige and the north in general
  • Many Italian wines contain Merlot, both in blends and as a varietal. For example, the popular Italian blends with Bordeaux grapes and Sangiovese called Super Tuscans often contain Merlot, which has soft flavors and tannins that can temper more powerful grapes and lend softness and depth to the finished wine.
    • SUPER TUSCANS In Italy, there were 25,614 hectares (63,290 acres) of the grape planted in 2000 with more than two-thirds of Italian Merlot being used in Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) blends (such as the so-called “Super Tuscans”) versus being used in classified Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines.
      • Episode 69 talks about Sassichaia, Ornellaia and Tignanello
      • More affordable option to try is Bolgheri DOC
    • FRIULI A large portion of Merlot is planted in the Friuli wine region where it is made as a varietal or sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. 
    • MAREMMA In other parts of Italy, such as the Maremma coast in Tuscany, it is often blended with Sangiovese to give the wine a similar softening effect as the Bordeaux blends.
    • ALPS This grape is particularly refined in the hillside region near Trento City, as well as in the Vallagarina Valley. In these areas, a cultivation system called Pergola Trentina and Guyot provide low yields, which results in concentrated grapes that translate into complex wines with rich flavors.
  • Following the phylloxera epidemic in Italy, which wiped out most of the Old-World vines, the Italians imported several phylloxera-resistant varieties from the United States. One of these was the Merlot grape.
  • Grapes grown in Italy:
    • Sangiovese, 54,000, 7,9 % of the total
    • Montepulciano, 27,000, 4,0 %
    • Glera, 27,000, 4,0 %
    • Pinot Gris, 25,000, 3,7 %
    • Merlot, 24,000, 3,5 %
    • Italia, 22,000, 3,2 % (table grape)
    • Catarratto Bianco, 21,000, 3,1 %
    • Trebbiano Toscano /Ugni Blanc, 21000, 3,1 %
    • Chardonnay, 20,000, 2,9 %
    • Barbera, 18,000, 2,6 %

UNITED STATES – CALLA

  • French nurseryman Antoine Delmas is credited with bringing Merlot to California in the 1850s
  • 1910 – Frederic Bioletti included Merlot in the collection of vinifera varieties in the new vineyard at the University Farm at Davis
  • 1962 – Louis Martini planted Merlot near Sonoma County’s town of Healdsburg and is credited with being among the first to varietally bottle and label Merlot
  • Jancis Robinson said “Cabernet without the pain, a red wine offering the classic nobility of a Bordeaux grape but without the austerne tannins” about California Merlot
  • Merlot reached peak popularity in the US in the 1990s and then experienced a significant drop in popularity after the movie Sideways came out
    • Has made a comeback and is now the second most common 
  • In Washington, Merlot became a star in the 1990s where it was the state’s most produced red variety and received many high scores
    • Some said Washington was the best place outside of Bordeaux to grow it
    • Seems to be more eastern Washington
  • In California, it is the most significant grape outside of Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for about 10% of grape acreage 
  • Often used in blends to soften tannins, it’s an important standalone grape for producers like Duckhorn
    • Also popular at Beringer, Chappellet, Pahlmeyer, Mayacames and La Jota Vineyard
  • A lot of California winemakers wanted to try to produce higher quality merlot after Sideways to eliminate its previous “mediocrity” so started changing where it was being farmed and seeking out places like Carneros (a cooler climate in the Napa Valley)
  • Central Coast served as the setting for the greatest assault ever levied on any grape variety in Sideways (specifically Santa Barbera)
    • Since then Central Coast has been dominated by two merlots (cheaper, mass produced versions that reinforce Sideawys and carefully constructed boutique bottlings”
  • NY: Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment, but most prevalent in Long Island (⅓ of the plantings)
    • Region has a lot of high humidity through growing season and threats of hurricanes in late summer/early fall so the consistency from vintage to vintage is just not there
    • But since merlot ripens early, it has a better chance
  • Virginia: This is where THomas Jefferson started his vineyard in 1774
    • He had nearly fallen into bankruptcy buying French wines so he turned to planting his own bordeaux varietals
  • Colorado is even mentioned in this Wine Enthusiast article

CHILE – KARA

  • Chile is the oldest wine-growing country in South America. In the middle of the 16th century spanish vines were planted in Chile. The country’s modern viniculture, however, goes back to French immigrants who brought their vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, that today dominate Chile’s grape varieties. 
  • The Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the red wines with 40% of the total cultivation area, followed by Merlot (15%) and Carmenere (6.5%).
  • Episode 20 – Intro to Chilean Wines
  • Merlot is a staple of the wine producing regions of South America. Alongside Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère, the bold, spicy grape contributes to Chile’s reputation for creating great, affordable wine.
  • Chilean Merlot tends to be full-bodied yet gentle, relatively low in alcohol yet with a bracing acidity, and it often has a divisive “green” characteristic to it.
  • This iconic Bordeaux grape was first brought to South America in the 19th century, yet only really came into its own during a massive surge in the consumption of Chilean and Argentinian wine in the 90s.
  • In 1994 it was discovered that much of what was thought to be Merlot was actually Carménère, an almost identical grape native to France that growers more or less turned their back on due to its relatively low yields.
  • The best Merlot in Chile grows in the Apalta region in the Colchagua province.

SWITZERLAND – CALLA

  • Introduced in the 19th century in the canton of Vaud but flourished in Ticino after its introduction in 1906 following the outbreak of phylloxera
  • 71% of the country’s merlot is grown in Ticino but can also be found in Valais, Vaud, Geneva
  • Is making white wine out of red grapes sacrilege? Because the Swiss don’t care
    • Idea was born in 1986 with Adriano Petralli
    • Ticino merlot was experiencing a crisis: the cellars were full and the quality of wine did not always match expectations 
    • Thus a world first: Merlot vinified in white
    • 30% of todays merlot is vinified in white in Ticino
    • Delicate, floral and slightly aromatic 
  • Tenuta San Guido

Nov 7 merlot day