I find Merlot to be the red Chardonnay in some ways. Merlot is a French word, but not an intimidating one, and like Chardonnay that played an undeniable role in it's success in the United States. Merlot and Chardonnay exploded in the United States wine culture late in the 1970's and dominated sales here until the late eighties. Both varietals have associated preconceived opinions by consumers. Both varietals are produced all over the world, and have entirely different resulting wines in each area of production. The two grapes are malleable and allow winemakers to impart their unique take on the expression of fruit that ultimately reaches your glass.
I am not sure of your opinion of Merlot, but I urge you to keep an open mind to the grape. This grape, because it is widely distributed and has varying quality levels, often gets a tough shake, movies like "Sideways" didn't help it's plight. Nor did it's own oversaturation in popularity early in it's United States career. Wanna try it again?
Washington is my new favorite place to show Merlot. It seems that the grape here gets a more velvety texture, and more complexity of fruit and earth aromas and flavors. California has done a great job of making the grape marketable, and yet some of the associated stigma (albeit unjustified) has caused me to use alternative regions of origin, in an attempt to entice people to try "a new Merlot"
I have a friend who is in New York, doing research on Vitis Vinifera grapes in the Ithaca region, and I can't wait to share notes about the Merlot produced there, too.
I have a number of "Cabernet Sauvignon enthusiasts" who claim to hate Merlot. It gives me some joy to tell them that many, maybe most, Cabernet Sauvignon's produced on earth have some Merlot (even as high as 20%) blended in them. This practice is very common, and goes both ways. It allows the winemaker to change a small variable, the ratio of the blend, annually to compensate for unseen challenges. We consumers, are not likely to notice if the 2018 was 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2019 is 86%. The difference is subtle enough for the brand to show consistency, but the winemaker to use the most optimum fruit selection.
Other fun new world Merlot Production can be found in Maipo and Rapel Chile. Here the more recognized grape may be Carmenère, but the Merlot is beautiful and reasonably priced. The Australians do a great job with the grape, too. In the Aussie heat, the grape performs a little like Cabernet Sauvignon in drier, more tannic styles, much the same as in Washington. In South Africa, it is frequently used to produce what are called Cape Blends. These wines, like the California category, "Meritage" are an homage to the historical home of Merlot, in Bordeaux, France.
Ending an article with region of origin seems backward, but Merlot from Pomerol, St. Emilion, and Bordeaux Superieur, are frequently very expensive, especially right now, and much different in style. Bordeaux warrants a separate conversation, several hours long, and I promise it is coming soon. Subscribers welcome! In the interim, we should book a new world compare and contrast, I like to do Merlot from Chile, Washington, and even northern New Zealand, or should we find a good candidate from New York State, but I will engineer whatever class interests you.