We have talked a lot about Hourcat Centre lately, our vision for Merlot, the first tiny harvest of Merlot this year and so I thought we should write a blog on this incredible grape variety. We always call Cabernet Franc our princess as it so soft and subtle when well made in Bordeaux. As Shiraz / Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon always compete for which one makes the most powerful wines and the title of “king”, we will christen Merlot as the Magician!
Merlot is the most popular grape variety across France and particularly in our region of Bordeaux on the clay soils north of the River Garonne – the so called Right Bank – where Merlot is the dominant grape variety. This makes good sense as it thrives on clay soils. And being further inland from the sea and having a colder winter and shorter season than the Medoc, this also favours Merlot.
When well made, Merlot makes a wine that is dry rich in flavour and smooth in texture. It is a very good grape to blend with either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc as its strengths are the opposite of those two varieties.
In the vineyard, Merlot can be distinguished by its long loose bunches of dark often shiny blue black large grapes. It buds early putting it at risk from late frosts and can ripen very quickly which when combined with its thin skin can make it susceptible to rot in humid conditions. It likes a well drained position and can handle heat and water stress which makes it a good vine for planting nearer the top of a slope (eg Hourcat centre). Old vine Merlot is particularly noted for its flavour and fruit – hence our passion to maintain the small section of 55 yo vines at the bottom of the block.
And why are Cabernet Franc and Merlot such good friends? CabFranc has great perfume, a light body and superb length on the palate. With some merlot in the middle, the body of the wine increases but leaves the tannins unchanged giving a near perfect wine in all respects….ask Chateau Cheval Blanc, St Emilion?