The recent celebration of National Merlot Day got the wheels spinning in my brain as we sat and enjoyed a beautiful Washington State Merlot. It is without a doubt, an extremely common grape variety planted the world over. The northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere, Europe, Chile, California, etc. What about Texas, you say? It is way too hot to grow a Bordeaux grape in the Lone Star state right? Well, no, actually. It is merely my opinion, but Merlot may just well be the happiest Bordeaux variety in Texas. It ripens well in our hot summers, harvests earlier in the growing season than Cabernet Sauvignon, and it generally does very well in the many different soil types across the state. Typically, Merlot prefers sandy or clay soils.
Let’s talk more about the history of this versatile grape. Merlot, which means Merle, or little blackbird, is originally from Bordeaux, France. Pomerol and St Émilion in Bordeaux are regions which produce undoubtedly some of the world’s finest Merlot wines. It has garnered a reputation for roundness, softness, and elegance, all while retaining a non-wimpy structure. Notably, it is the most widely planted red grape in all of France, and in Bordeaux is almost always blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to soften tannic structure, and to add grace to such a powerful wine. By the time Merlot made its way to California, winemakers began producing 100% Merlot wines once they discovered its easiness to drink, and the wine consumers were very much impressed. There are wineries like Duckhorn in Napa that have literally built their brand and image around the Merlot grape.
I think it is time to talk about Merlot in Texas! It is planted widely throughout the state, and is well received far and wide by Texas wine lovers. What’s not to love about it? It can produce round, jammy wines if grown in the High Plains AVA, or produce astringent, earthy, limestone dominant wines if grown in the Hill Country AVA. As in most regions of the world, this stunning grape can be made into so many different styles of wine. Personally, I find Merlot to be mysterious, sexy, sensual, and calming. I have never had two Merlot wines that were exactly alike. The only real negative to Merlot in Texas is, like Viognier, Merlot has an earlier bud break meaning it can be more susceptible to late spring frosts, which can wreak havoc across Texas. So as long as we can escape freezes and hail, and have a typical long hot summer, Merlot can truly be a stellar grape for the Lone Star State.
You may be asking yourself, why even write an article about one of the most popular and well known grapes on earth? Well, I meet people on almost a daily basis that feel Merlot is overdone, old news, boring, Miles didn’t want to drink it in the movie Sideways, etc. I am not joking about the Sideways thing. The reason I am writing this is to hopefully help you fall in love with Merlot all over again. It is deserving of a second chance, or even a twentieth chance. It offers so much diversity and potential, it is difficult not to love such a multi-talented grape variety. Next time you visit a local Texas winery, or a local winery anywhere you might live, ask for a good old Merlot. Who knows, you might be surprised how much you fall in love with it.