A wine so smooth and easy to drink that not even the film Sideways could completely tarnish its reputation, Merlot is a red wine beloved by many - but is Merlot sweet?
Merlot is a French variety and the name roughly translates to “little blackbird”, but there’s nothing little about this variety.
Fruity and fun, it’s grown and drunk all over the world.
But does Merlot’s fruit-forward popularity make it a dry or a sweet wine?
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Is Merlot Sweet?
No, Merlot is considered to be a dry wine. Merlot wine is fruitier than Cabernet Sauvignon, but its a dry wine due to its tannin levels, even though is has a fruitier tasting profile.
Perhaps best known for its role in right-bank Bordeaux blends, Merlot traditionally makes bone-dry red wines.
However, as with other typically dry wines like Sauvignon Blanc, just because Merlot is commonly a bone-dry wine, doesn't mean it’s always a dry wine.
In fact, you may be surprised to find out that Merlot can make some really delicious, opulent dessert wines, providing lots of gorgeous red berry fruit to this very sweet style.
So if Merlot is known for being so dry, how can the same grape make something so sweet as well?
Why is Merlot Sweet?
Why is Merlot sweet, especially when it is so often dry, is a very good question to ask.
Typically, Merlot makes incredibly dry red wines, that’s part of its charm.
Once the yeast has fermented all the sugar in Merlot and converted it into alcohol there is no residual sugar left, only complex fruit flavours and lots of structured tannins.
In order to make a Merlot sweet, some dessert winemaking practices need to be applied to the Merlot grapes, in order to ensure there is residual sugar left after the grapes have been fermented.
There are lots of different ways to make dessert wines, and they’ll vary from maker to maker.
But some methods involve leaving merlot grapes on the vine for longer periods of time so that they become really ripe and others may involve freezing the grapes to concentrate its sugars, making ice wine in the process.
The key is in concentrating the grape’s sugars.
As a rule then, Merlot will be sweet because a winemaker has actively decided to make a sweet Merlot wine and will be applying dessert winemaking techniques to the style, which is why sweet Merlot is such a rarity.
If you happen to have a rare bottle of dessert Merlot and want some more information on the best way to serve Merlot.
Sweetness aside, what does Merlot taste like?
What Does Merlot Taste Like?
Merlot may be a very popular grape variety, but what does Merlot taste like?
Merlot can often be confused with Cabernet Sauvignon in blind tastings, so it's useful to know the tasting notes typically associated with Merlot.
Merlot is slightly fruitier than a Cab Sauv but both varieties are far from sweet!
Merlot, especially when grown in cool climates such as France and Chile, makes elegant, well structured and slightly earthy wines with lots of complexity.
Think hints of fragrant lilac, teeth cracking into chocolate covered violet creams, seeded raspberry jam with black coffee in the morning and ripe, succulent figs.
In a word, delicious.
What are the Characteristics of Merlot Wine?
Now we’ve got a grasp on sweetness, what other characteristics can you expect to find in a glass of Merlot?
- Alcohol Levels - Alcohol levels in Merlot wines range at the top end, between 13.5-15% ABV.
- Sweetness Level - Typically Merlot makes bone-dry red wines, although there are some dessert wine styles of the grape to be found.
- Acidity Level - Merlot has a medium acidity, which makes it great for drinking with food and even better for long term storage.
- Tannin Level - Part of the reason Merlot is such a dry wine is because of its medium-high tannin levels. Not only do these tannins create a dryer mouthfeel, they also provide the structure needed for cellaring wines.
- Body - Merlot has lots of complex flavours, so luckily for us the wines also tend to have a medium-full body to compliment all the wonderful aromas and tastes in the glass.
So what are the sweet types of Merlot and where can you find them?
Sweet Types of Merlot Wine
Sweet types of Merlot wines are a rarity.
Most Merlot’s make exceptionally dry wines so in order to find a sweet Merlot you may have to ask your local specialist wine retailer.
Sweet types of Merlot wine can include ice wines made using Merlot.
These styles can sometimes be made in Austria and taste of rose syrup, baked strawberries and perfumed cranberries.
Drink them straight, over ice or poured into a glass of Champagne for a luxurious treat.
But how does Merlot compare to other wines?
Is Merlot sweeter than Shiraz, for example?
Is Merlot Sweeter Than Shiraz?
As a rule both Merlot and Shiraz are used to make very dry, but very delicious, red wines.
Both wines, when made in this style, are about the same level of dryness. Although some fruitier tasting versions of the wines may give the impression of sweetness.
Both Merlot and Shiraz can be used to make sweet, dessert style wines although these are rarer and would come in smaller shaped wine bottles, to help differentiate them.
Why don’t you buy a Merlot and a Shiraz for your next dinner with friends and see what your guests think?
The truth is in the taste buds after all.
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