Of California table wine shipments, Merlot is the second leading red varietal after Cabernet Sauvignon purchased by Americans today. California Merlot consumption was 18 million cases in 2014 in the U.S., growing dramatically from the 2.8 million cases sold in 1994.
What is the reason for Merlot's popularity? Industry observers offer possible explanations. Consumers who are new to wine may be trying red wine because of news reports linking moderate drinking to a healthy lifestyle. Also, white and blush drinkers may be expanding their preferences to red. Merlot may be the choice in both instances because of the soft, approachable and luscious character that is appealing to new and regular red wine drinkers. In restaurants, Merlot's average price is similar to the average price of the widely popular Chardonnay varietal, according to a "Wine & Spirits" magazine poll of restaurants.
The Merlot Grape
Merlot is one of the principal winegrape varieties of the Bordeaux region in France, and was brought to California in the mid-19th century. Historically, vintners have used Merlot as a blending grape to soften a wine, usually with Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot tannins are less forceful than Cabernet Sauvignon, so Merlot wine tends to mature earlier. Merlot is now primarily popular as a varietal wine. Most of the Merlot vines are planted in Lodi/San Joaquin County, followed by Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Monterey counties.
Top California Counties for Merlot Acreage, 2014
|County||2014 Total Acres|
|San Luis Obispo||4,246|
California Merlot Grape Crush Tonnage
Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service