Merlot | Vincabulary



French, young blackbird, merlot, diminutive of merle, blackbird (from the color of the grape)


Poor Merlot. Here it was, cruising along at the top of its game, in its lustrous plum-robed glory. One of the most popular red wine varietals on the globe due to its pleasant berry fruit, accessible softness and plush mouthfeel, Merlot appealed to many tastes and many demographics. The grape, borne of Bordeaux, had the genetic make up of a blue-blooded trust-fund globetrotter. Unlike its greatest rival/ marriage partner Cabernet Sauvignon, adaptable, blendable Merlot buds and ripens early, has large, thin skinned berries resulting in lower acid and tannin, and easily achieves high yields. It rose to the top of the North American wine world in the 1980’s, achieving success with both California cult classics and Washington State pioneers. Merlot flooded the markets, and producers capitalized on the grape’s popularity with quick-to-market, uninspired wines. And then, regal Merlot was smacked Sideways. In the wine geek chic 2004 movie Sideways, Pinot Noir-loving protagonist Miles tells his buddy that “if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any f**king Merlot!” Merlot sales dropped across North America and the UK (interestingly, Okanagan Merlot sales held steady). The Sideways Effect swept Merlot off its velvet throne, and many winemakers have had to scramble over the years since to reinvent and reinstate.

When Merlot isn’t smothered with oak, over cropped or left on the vine past its ripeness date, it produces a medium bodied red with deep raspberry, plum, mulberry, fruitcake and mocha. Popular as ever in maritime Bordeaux (the most planted red grape there), it is also gaining acclaim in other cooler microclimates. The wines below are fresh and characterful, effortlessly likeable. Even Miles would agree.



Château Jouanin 2009
AC Cotes de Bordeaux Castillon, France
$21-24  +222661  13.5%

This Château is right on the border of Côtes de Castillon and the Puisseguin St. Emilion appellations. Expressive perfumed plum, cherry and pencil shavings lure into the savoury, dusty palate with a core of pure black cherries. Distinctively drinkable Bordeaux, at a fantastic price.



Babich Family Estates
Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2009
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
$19-24*  +106906  13%

Gimblett Gravels is a special site with deep gravel soils. The stoniness comes through from the first sniff – deep dust, floral black currant and herbal notes, with earthy wild blueberries, Italian prune plum and fine grained tannins. Lighter, focused style.



Kestrel Vintners
Falcon Series Merlot 2007
Yakima Valley, Washington State
$27-40* +020164  13.6%

It was Merlot that put Washington State on the world wine map, and this wine shows why. From Washington State’s first AVA, this is plush and round, with sweet black cherry, ripe fig, dense licorice and spice, bound with ample silky tannins. Full fruit flavours are seamlessly equalized by fresh, lifted acidity.



Merlot 2008
Umbria IGT, Orvieto – Montecchio, Italy
$19-23  +494351  13.5%

Herbal and beguilingly rustic, this Merlot opens with anise seed, dried leather and salty earth overtop a vein of cherries and prunes. Juicy red cherry, raspberry, black currant and dried spice linger through the espresso-bitter chocolate finish. Grown on calcareous-clay hills of Orvieto.



Concha y Toro
Marques de Casa Concha Merlot 2009
DO Peumo, Cachapoal Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile
$20-24  +706747  14.5%

Dark and inky, this powerhouse opens with thorny black fruit, sweet ripe plums, tar and a puff of smoke. Dense cassis, wild blackberries and toasted wood fill the palate, finishing juicy and long. This is a big, bold wine, handled confidently, and using its power for good (BBQ!)



Orofino Vineyards
Red Bridge Merlot 2010
Similkameen Valley, BC
$25-29*   14.5%

All the fruit for this wine comes from Oak Knoll Vineyard in nearby Kaleden (on Skaha Lake). The Merlot was aged for 16 months in oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered, resulting in a textured, layered red. 2010 was a lean year, and this wine honestly reflects the vintage with a lean ridge of acidity lifting up the savoury dark black fruit. Vanilla, coffee and raspberry ride out the lingering finish.


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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Some may be in limited quantities. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores – visit or download the free BC LiquorStores iPhone App for locations and availability. Prices may vary.


Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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