The Renaissance of Italian Merlot Wine

Italian Merlot is excellent by itself or paired with a variety of Italian dishes
Merlot has an interesting history.

Italian Merlot wine is an excellent choice for those who want an easy-drinking wine that pairs well with many dishes.

About Italian Merlot Wine

Italian vintners have been cultivating the Merlot grape since the late 19th century. This grape is particularly refined in the hillside region near Trento City, as well as in the Vallagarina Valley. In these areas a cultivation system called Pergola Trentina and Guyot provide low yields, which results in concentrated grapes that translate into complex wines with rich flavors.

Following the phylloxera epidemic in Italy, which wiped out most of the Old-World vines, the Italians imported several phylloxera-resistant varieties from the United States. One of these was the Merlot grape.

During the beginning of the 20th century the popularity of Merlot spread throughout the regions of Veneto, Friuli, Trentino and Alto Adige, all in the Northeastern part of Italy. By the 1990s there were more than 93,000 acres of Merlot wine in production in Italy.

It is a variety that produces high yields and therefore usually makes it into some of the lesser priced wines, but in the hands of the right vintner Italian Merlot wines can be wonderful and just as complex as their more expensive and famous counterparts, such as Chianti or Super Tuscans.

Today there is a small renaissance among Italian winemakers who are embracing this grape and finally giving it its due moment in the sun.

Today's Italian Merlot

The new Merlots are from untraditional regions that typically didn't grow the grape. Today this variety is more widely grown in central Italy, where vintners are creating some very balanced and more well respected wines.

For example well-known winemakers in Tuscany, who traditionally produce Chianti Classico, have begun to create superior Merlots. Some of these producers include:

  • Maculan's Marchesante from the Veneto
  • Borgo del Tiglio's Rosso della Centa from Friuli
  • Pierpaolo Pecorari's Baolar
  • Torre Rosazza's Altomerlot
  • Villa Russiz Graf de la Tour
  • Le Vigne di Zamo's Vigne di Cinquant'anni

Producing Top Merlots

One of the most important factors in producing a quality Italian Merlot wine is to ensure that there is a harmonious relationship between the grape and its terroir. The grape needs great attention to the soil, as well as the concentration of berries on the vine. The less grapes, the more concentrated the wine will be. Thus, wine makers must ensure that they are pruning their vines with great care.

Merlot Around the World

Merlot is one of the most popular varietals in the world. It is also one of the key blending grapes in Bordeaux, making it one of the most planted grapes in the world as well.

Oenologists believe the Merlot grape is an offspring of Cabernet Franc and a close sibling of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Its grapes are traditionally loose with large berries that have a deep wine color, a thin skin and relatively soft tannins. They traditionally have a little more sugar content than their Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere cousins.

Merlot does best in colder, ferrous clay-type soil and buds earlier than many other varietials, which makes it susceptible to frost and rot. The vines need well-drained soil, as well as good pruning to decrease the yield and concentrate the quality of the juice. Older vines tend to produce better wines.

While the majority of Merlot grape plantings are primarily in France and the United States, Italy is also a major producer of this grape, as is Hungary. Other Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, Moldova, Croatia and Romania also have some production of Merlot.

Merlot Characteristics

When made well, Merlot is soft and velvety with an overnote of plum and very little tannins. However, there are some that are a bit more robust with high tannins, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Food Pairings

Merlot is an excellent food wine that pairs well with grilled meats, salmon and mushroom dishes. The lighter versions can even pair with rich shellfish like prawns, scallops and lobster. Italian Merlots go best with Italian foods such as tomato-based pasta, risotto, lasagna and chicken braised in red wine.

The Renaissance of Italian Merlot Wine