Merlot is a world leader in dark grape varieties, second only to its cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon. It is perhaps most synonymous with Bordeaux, where it accounts for more than 60 per cent of the total red wine production, but it is also the firm favourite of producers across France. Merlot also features heavily in northern Italy, warmer areas of southern Switzerland and across the New World, notably California, Washington and Chile.
While Merlot is difficult to define by flavour alone, it has a slight herbaceousness. However, it is most often appreciated for its texture. The wine is smooth and easy to drink, and so is often used to soften other varieties with stronger tannins. The reason for the grape’s softness is partly its size – it has a high proportion of flesh compared to its seeds, with a thin skin which contributes little in the way of tannins.
It is also popular for the ease with which it can be grown. It ripens early, even in cooler environments, and produces a higher yield than Cabernet Sauvignon. This also has its drawbacks for growers, however, with its early flowering at risk from spring frosts. Cool, moist soils are often preferable for Merlot, as the retained water is vital as the grapes grow to their full size.