Merlot is a black and blue grape variety that produces softer, medium to full bodied dry red wine. It is currently the most extensively planted red wine grape variety in the Bordeaux region of France and the second most widely planted and popular red wine grape variety in the United States – just behind Cabernet Sauvignon.
Classically vinified to be a dry red wine, Merlot grapes can have dramatic differences in flavor depending on the type of climate they’re grown in. Many wine regions famous for growing Merlot will produce both red wine blends and single varietal wines with the Merlot grape.
What Does Merlot Red Wine Taste Like?
Merlot tends to have a similar flavor profile to Cabernet Sauvignon and is actually within the same family of grape (a descendant of Cabernet Franc). The main difference between these grapes is that Merlot has a thinner skin and tends to be less astringent due to fewer and softer tannins. It also maintains a fruitier, sometimes less complex body.
While Merlot flavor does vary dependent upon where it’s grown climate-wise, you’ll typically get notes of ripe blue, black and red fruit. These tasting notes are often backed by undertones of coco, vanilla and various earth tones.
Scroll down to see the aromatic and flavor specifics depending on region.
Climate and Terroir for Merlot
Merlot is a grape variety that can do well in both warm and cool climates. However, it’s important to note that “warm” and “cool” is often a subjective term in the wine world.
For instance, many Bordeaux old world wine producers consider 60 degree summers (Fahrenheit) weather to be warm, while most new world Merlot producers (and most of the rest of the world) consider 60 degrees to be on the cooler side.
For the sake of this article, 60 degrees in the summer is cold. That said, Merlot can thrive in both warm and cool climates when given the proper amount of TLC, with varying degrees of ripeness and yield.
In terms of soil composition, Merlot adapts well to silt and gravel-esque soil-types (such as those along the Medoc in Bordeaux), as well as limestone and clay.
Merlot Tasting Notes & Grape Profile
Common Flavors and Aromas
- Fruit: Black, Red and Blue
- New World: Plum, Black Cherry, Pomegranate,
- Old World: Black Currant, Raspberry, Ripe Plum
- Earth & Mineral Notes: Gravel, Tea Leaf, Forest Leaves
- Additional Complexities: Cola, Mushroom, White Pepper, Coco, and Vanilla
- Body: Medium-Full
- Sugar: Dry
- Tannins: Light-Medium
- Acid: Medium
- Alcohol: Medium-High (12.5%-14.5% ABV)
- Finish: Medium-Long
- Soil: Silt, Gravel and Limestone
- Climate: Varied & Adaptable (Hot – Cool)
- Notable Regions: Bordeaux (Right Bank Dominant, Left Bank) | Lodi, California | Napa Valley, California | Central Coast, California
Best Merlot Food Pairings
Because of Merlot’s lighter tannin structure, you typically don’t get an intense sensation of astringency in your mouth. This makes Merlot fun to pair with softer poultry and meats on the sweet or savory side. I like roasted duck, lechon, or honey-barbecued chicken. Try pairing any style of Merlot with a side of ricotta risotto or pene alla vodka.