Does Merlot only appeal to the high volume market or can it achieve greatness?
Merlot is a red grape varietal producing wine for the masses as well as wine that has, indeed, already achieved greatness for many years although is be few and far between. However, for many years, too few people knew about its limited greatness apart from the wine connoisseurs. According to Liza Zimmerman’s article “In Defense of Merlot” from the March 2008 issue of “Wine Business Monthly,” Merlot has been the dominant grape in high quality blends in Bordeaux and the New World for a long time. Nowadays, winemakers are making Merlot worldwide as a high-quality single-varietal or nearly single-varietal wine very much sought after despite the commercialization that the film “Sideways” has given this easy-to-drink variety.
Since the 1990’s, long before “Sideways” was filmed, Merlot had been marketed to the masses in the United States mainly as an easy-to-drink wine. What people always liked about Merlot is it is smooth, less-tannic, and fruity. According to Zimmerman, only a few savvy wine drinkers knew about the high quality support Merlot gave as the classic blending grape for the ever famous Bordeaux wines and for similar top styles produced in the New World. Further, the majority of wine drinkers thought little more of this wine as the one to order when in doubt. However, this “mass produced” perception about Merlot has improved. The upscale Merlot still has softer tannins because of its ripeness but what gives its upscale character includes its sweet alcohol and dark fruity aromas and flavors.
According to “Impact Databank,” Merlot wine sales have increased by about one million cases between 2005 and 2006. In Zimmerman’s article, it is argued that with the publicity that “Sideways” has drawn for this grape, many producers rigorously produce more upscale wines. Because Merlot ages faster than many other flavorful red grapes, there is great feasibility to make pleasant red wines that people can consume within a few years of aging. This helps support the reason why the demand for Merlot-dominant wines became popular. The adaptability this grape has to various types of locations, soils, and climates makes it that much more feasible to produce such versatile Merlot wines worldwide. Jancis Robinson suggests that this helps make Merlot a well known grape high in demand as Chardonnay is to white wine consumers.
Appealing to the high volume market, however, give rise to the stake of Merlot’s reputation. In the March 21, 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal, wine columnist John Brecher tells how so many producers are ending up with weaker quality wines. He speculates the reason for this to be the increased demand for Merlot from the past ten years which, in turn, has stimulated the winemakers to concentrate on this grape. At the conclusion of his article, he does write about several high-quality, but expensive, producers in the United States and describes the better Merlots as dark, minerally, and full of dark berry fruits and chocolate. He compares this greater Merlot with Chateau Petrus as does Jancis Robinson in her writings.
Merlot’s greatness has always been there. However, many Merlot wines remain as basic as other easy-to-drink wines, sometimes very weak in flavor and aroma, sometimes good, and sometimes terrific.