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by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | December 09, 2010

Considered one of the most popular red wines, Merlot is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and is often blended with it. . Merlot usually has ripe berry components in the bouquet. The dry, rich, and smooth texture of Merlot wine is both soft and fruity with notes of berry, plum, and black currant. It is best after four to eight years of aging and should be served slightly below room temperature. Merlot is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon in popularity in the United States. Merlot is usually bottled in a Bordeaux (high shouldered) bottle.

The Merlot grape is a close cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon in many respects, but it ripens earlier which creates a softer, more mellow quality. It is a small, dark blue grape and relatively thin skinned. This makes the grapes mature faster and ripen sooner. The Merlot grapes are lower in tannins and their texture is softer. Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in order to soften the Merlot. It is moderately vigorous in vine growth, but must sometimes be reined in from setting too large of a crop by careful pruning, often followed weeks later by cluster thinning. Merlot grapes on fertile soil may produce eight tons per acre, but best fruit quality is gained if the crop is kept at six tons per acre or less.

While its flavor style is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot tends to be less distinctive overall in both aroma and taste. Merlot has slightly lower natural acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon and generally less astringency blend. Merlot is able to mature in regions that are cooler than those required for Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is more susceptible to fungus and mold diseases which make them a little harder to grow. Merlot varies widely in quality around the world depending on location and producer. In California the Merlot is not nearly as widely cultivated as the Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. A number of California wineries do bottle varietal versions and these tend to lack the charm and style of the best Cabernets or Zinfandels. Merlot is also widely used to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon for added complexity. It came to California in the mid-1860s and has become one of the most popular wines since its surge in popularity in the 1990s.

Merlot is enjoying a surge in popularity and additional acreage is being planted in many major producing regions. Merlot should be served slightly below room temperature. Reaching room temperature is likely to cause an unpleasant sharpness in the taste. Chilling the bottle for 15 to 20 minutes can be a good way to reach the desired serving temperature.

At its best, Merlot makes a wine that is dry, rich in flavor and smooth as it finishes in your throat. At its worst, Merlot makes wine that is dry but thin in taste and texture, and not very pleasant to consume. Most of the Merlot you will come across is likely to be of pretty good quality and enjoyable.

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