You probably don’t expect to drink Italian Merlot on a wine tour in Tuscany. But chances are that you’ll taste some Merlot grapes in our distinctive Tuscan wines.
Most people know Merlot as a successful grape from the Bordeaux region of France. Or as the hilariously maligned wine in the movie, “Sideways.”
Nonetheless, Merlot is still one of the most popular red wines. In fact, the grapes are grown all over the world.
In Tuscany, Merlot is the second-most cultivated black grape variety after Sangiovese. And local winemakers are building a reputation for their “Italian Merlot”.
The characteristics of Italian Merlot
Merlot wine typically has a ruby garnet color and fruit-forward flavors like black cherry, plum or raspberry. It may also have earthy notes of dried herbs, tobacco leaves or chocolate. Since it’s often aged in oak, you may notice flavors like cloves and vanilla.
However, the quality that comes to mind for most people is the remarkable smoothness and drinkability of Merlot.
How is Italian Merlot different? It has all of these qualities, but it is, of course, influenced by the local terroir. The result is a wine that’s lusciously round and velvety, with softer tannins than its Bordeaux counterpart.
Chianti and Merlot: A Perfect Partnership
Sangiovese grapes play a dominant role in our classic Tuscan wine, Chianti. But what you may not know is that Chianti often includes a small amount of Merlot in the blend.
By adding Merlot, winemakers can soften the bright and savoury elements of Sangiovese grapes. The result is a smoother and easier drinking wine, with a touch of elegance from the Merlot.
Merlot and the Super Tuscans
In the 1970s, Italian winemakers wanted to break away from strict regulations and began adding non-indigenous grapes like Merlot to their blends. These wines eventually became known as Super Tuscans.
A popular blend among the Super Tuscans includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot. This mix draws upon the power of Cabernet, the rustic flavors of Sangiovese and the fruity softness of Merlot.
Although most Italian Merlot is used in blends, some winemakers are starting to produce very high-quality wines from 100% Merlot grapes. For example, this delicious Merlot from Le Fonti winery in Tuscany has an intense aroma with hints of blackberries and a smooth taste.
It just goes to show that Italian Merlot is, indeed, a “thing”, owing to the versatility of the grape and the creativity of our local winemakers.
Come taste the flavors for yourself on our popular Tuscan wine tour from Florence three wineries in the Chianti region.