It is believed that the first time the grape was used in making wine was in the late 1700s when a French winemaker in the Bordeaux region formally labeled the grape as an ingredient in his Bordeaux wine blend. From this moment on, the grape spread across Bordeaux and became known for its unique ability to add softness and luscious fruit to a wine when it was combined with the region’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot complemented each other so well, that the pair became the main ingredients for the world-renowned Bordeaux blend, now coveted by the majority of the world’s wine drinkers
The name Merlot in French means “little blackbird” since blackbirds were famous for dining on the ripened fruit. It is the 2nd most popular red grape in the United States. Only 2nd to Cabernet Sauvignon. Like many of the native Bordeaux grape varieties, Merlot is naturally versatile, acclimating to different climate zones and soil compositions, which, over time and a lot of travel, have made it the second most planted red grape on the planet.
In Northern Italy, the region of Friuli makes some of the most stunning single variety Merlot around. There is actually a tourist route, Strada Del Merlot, that runs along the Isonzo river. In this part of the world, Merlot is supple and smooth, with hints of its naturally herbaceous character mingling with soft mocha and blueberry notes. The wines from here can be a bit expensive, but there are also some great entry-level examples that shine through.
Merlot grape vines were initially brought to the United States in California in the mid 19th Century. Until this point it was generally combined with Cabernet in wine making. American winemakers started making this wine alone and without the blend of Cab. They found that Americans really loved the soft, smoothness and reduced tannin levels. Since the grapes grew easily it was a perfect match for California growers and has since been successful in the New York and Washington State and the Maryland and Virginia areas as well.
Maryland and Virginia have been able to establish tremendous Merlot offerings as many wine enthusiasts now call the Maryland and Virginia areas the “Napa Valley of the East Coast”
Merlot wines in the Maryland and Virginia areas offer Merlots in all sorts of ranges from fruity to rich, delicious, luxurious, velvety textures. Known for being ripe and elegant, most Merlots are easy drinking and are great paired with many foods or on their own. Merlot is often recommended as the first red wine that someone new to reds should taste. Cherry-like aromas with hints of Cabernet's herbaceousness. Softer flavor than Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium to full bodied, dry, less tannic than Cabernet. Drinkable earlier than Cabernet, yet ages well
The Maryland and Virginia areas offer some wonderful places to start your Merlot Wine tasting tour or experience.
Maryland area Wineries Merlot
- Basignani Winery
- Bordeleau Vineyards and Winery
- Cellebration Cellars
- Chateau Bu-De Vineyard & Winery
- Crow Vineyard & Winery
- Dove Valley Winery
- Elk Run Vineyards & Winery
- Fiore Winery and Distillery
- Gemeny Winery and Vineyards
- Harford Vineyard and Winery
- New Market Plains Vineyards
- Perigeaux Vineyards & Wineries
- Robin Hill Farm and Vineyard
- Windridge Vineyards