Merlot, which in French means The Little Blackbird, is the second most popular red grape in America (after Cabernet Sauvignon). Known for being soft, ripe and elegant, most Merlots are easy drinking reds that go well both with food as well as on their own. This is an approachable grape varietal and is often recommended as the first red wine someone new to red wine should drink.
It is believed that the first time the grape was used in making wine was in the late 1700s when a French winemaker in the Bordeaux region formally labeled the grape as an ingredient in his Bordeaux wine blend. From this moment on, the grape spread across Bordeaux and became known for its unique ability to add softness and luscious fruit to a wine when it was combined with the region's favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. The combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot complemented each other so well, that the pair became the main ingredients for the world-renowned Bordeaux blend, now coveted by the majority of the world's wine drinkers.
As the popularity of Bordeaux wine spread across the globe, so too did Merlot. When the grape arrived in California in the mid-nineteenth century, instead of being blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, American winemakers began making wines using 100% Merlot. The grape grew easily and they discovered Americans really loved the softness of the fruit on its own, and that they enjoyed its low tannin levels.
Merlot is a varietal that contains at least 13.5% alcohol, but can approach 14.5%, especially when it is grown in a warmer climate such as Australia, California or Chile. The wine is often said to have a plummy taste and notes of chocolate. It's also considered to be smooth and very easy to drink.