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Champ Merlot With Five Fun Facts

Celebrate International Merlot Day by mastering the grape’s history, style and success in five crisp points
Some wines have their reputation precede them in the shape of feverish wine enthusiasts and marketing campaigns that run forever and engulf the world in effacing content. And then there are some ferments that quietly impress with understated class and unique style absent any hype at all. Merlot typifies this ilk of grape, making an elegant and fruit forward wine and being part of wine most important historic chapter and blend in Bordeaux but it never talked up as a superstar. On November 8 though, this grape is celebrated and gushed over across the world on International Merlot Day and it’s diverse styles, explored and appreciated. So this is an opportune time to get to know your Merlot through five fun vinous nuggets that illuminate the grape’s origins, its primacy in Bordeaux and success in the New World as well as a controversial Hollywood cameo and why this wine is beloved by foodies.
Merlot Original
Merlot is a thin-skinned grape, native to Bordeaux where it forms an integral part of the epic Bordeaux Blend. The grape is interestingly a cross between another Bordelais variety, Cabernet Franc and the rarely known Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, an ancient grape no longer used for wine production. In old world lingo, Merlot means ‘little blackbird’ and this grape certainly flies high in the region of its birth.
The Bordeaux Boss
Bordeaux is eternally upheld as the gold standard for red wine quality and on the vast French region’s Right Bank, it is Merlot that largely determines the quality of all blends. While the Left Bank is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot leads the blends on the right bank, turning out fruit of great concentration from the region’s red clay soil and making wines that balance power and fruit expression. Famous Right Bank appellations include Saint-Emilion, home to Chateau Cheval Blanc, sought after for spectacular blends and Pomerol where a certain Petrus makes a 100 per cent Merlot that remains one of the world’s top 10 most expensive wines.
New World Charmer
Merlot wasn’t content with its untouchable reputation in Bordeaux. It was always poised for major international success with vintners planting the vine across Europe and the New World and fashioning a number of interesting and approachable styles. No surprise then that Merlot is the world’s second most planted grape variety. Straight up Merlot has the capacity for elegance and red fruit-forward charm with touches of dark chocolate and soft tannins. That style was an instant success in America, South Africa and Chile while some of the Australian regions strived to produce a bolder style. In Italy, Merlot played a key role in Tuscany’s Super Tuscan revolution, blending wonderfully with Sangiovese and drinking great by itself. Our very own Brancaia Merlot rose from Tuscany, has been a hit with local oenophiles.
The ‘Sideways’ Connection
If you haven’t seen it already you just have to. The 2004 vinous flick Sideways is film about loving wine in more ways than one, centering around Miles and his love-hate relationship with Merlot. Now Miles professes to totally hate Merlot throughout the movie but towards the end, it turns out that his life’s most prized possession is 1961 Château Cheval Blanc, a Merlot driven Bordeaux blend which is still sung about as absolutely epic wine, produced during one of Bordeaux’s best years. So Miles actually loves Merlot and has saved up one of its best produced bottles for a long time. Now while that Cheval Blanc vintage was outstanding, we’ve also got some stunning Merlot wines that you’ll fall in love with.
Culinary Companion
Merlot is a massive hit with foodies the world over for good reason. This approachable red matches consummately with a range of cuisines, especially comfort foods. We love our pastas, pizzas and assorted barbeque and so does Merlot. Merlot beautifully balances fruit expression with soft rounded tannins and smooth texture, all of which work well to enhance the food’s taste rather than clash with it. Red wines that have strong tannins and higher alcohol content can simply overpower the food while Merlot both as Bordeaux blend and New World avatar is a can’t-go-wrong culinary companion.