Guest Post – Proving ‘Sideways’ Wrong: Understanding Merlot

Mar 05, 14 Guest Post – Proving ‘Sideways’ Wrong: Understanding Merlot

Comedy enthusiasts and wine lovers alike might remember the film ‘Sideways’, the tale of two wine lovers on a stag weekend. No doubt the part that sticks in their memory is one of the lead characters voicing an angry refusal to drink Merlot.

Naturally, the film won’t have done any favours for this dry, red wine. Who knows, a lot of the audience might not have known anything about wine at all — other than that it tastes good! — so perhaps we should see learn a little about Merlot, about how it’s made, before anyone else turns their nose up at it.

A River Runs Through It

The first thing to know about Merlot is that it’s a Bordeaux wine. The blend of grapes in this south west region of France is particularly prominent. Sure, most places blend grapes, but not quite like Bordeaux! If someone tells you that you’re drinking a ‘right-bank’ Bordeaux wine, it’s not a shot in the dark to guess that it’s a Merlot. They’re actually a clue as to the blend of grapes in the wine. In right-bank wines, Merlot grapes have a heavier presence in the blend, whereas in left-bank ones Cabernet Sauvignon grapes gain the upper hand. You can both identify the wine type a touch easier and sound knowledgeable at a party!

vigneron amongst the vines

vigneron amongst the vines

Jumping to It

Merlot grapes wait for no one. They’re quick to over-ripen, so once they’re ripe for the picking, you have to get straight in there if you don’t want a dull tasting wine. (Incidentally, a winery and university in Valencia has actually created a ‘tongue’ that detects when a grape is ripe for winemaking, in case you should have problems in that sphere!) You can pick the grapes by hand or machine. With the picker on the ball, the grapes then find themselves swiftly en route to the winery, where they’re de-stemmed and crushed for fermentation. This fermentation can be conducted using yeast naturally in the air, or, for a more consistent final product, with selected strands of yeast. The length of the fermentation is up to the winemaker, but, normally, this is between 7 and 18 days.

Think it’s fermented? Not just yet. The Merlot then undergoes a second fermentation process… this time to convert the malic acid into a softer lactic acid. This tempers the flavour of the wine and adds fruitiness to the wine. Then it’s a question of just leaving the wine in the oak barrel to grow old. Place it a French oak and the wine will acquire a cedar character, whereas it will take on more a vanilla or coconut one if the maker ages it in an American oak. The normal period is 6 to 18 months.

204120049_caca6ed72d_oLet the Red Fruits Run Free

After this spell in the barrel, you’re free to enjoy the plum and cherry flavours that a good Merlot offers, as the wine will be ready to drink. However, if you’re in no great hurry, the Merlot can stay ageing in the cellar for up to 10 years and still not prove a nasty shock to the palette. Not even tinned food lasts that long!

Oh and those guys from that movie, they may have looked down on it because they’d been drinking wine for a long time, but everyone’s got to start somewhere. There’s no better to place to start than a Merlot from Bordeaux. In fact, it’s the first place you should look!

Image by miheco, Rising Damp and cheri0627, used under Creative Commons licence.

Caroline Chapman is a self-confessed foodie. As well as enjoying wines and a good banana split, her favourite dessert, she loves to spend time out in the countryside with her dog Ralph and the works of William Burroughs.

1 Comment

  1. Ah! You really let remember that film. That is really nice one. Bordeaux is now attracting me. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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