The oldest reference of the Merlot variety appears in the Libourne department, in the Gironde region. This grape has early budding, mid ripening and is very vigorous, with many sprouts and suckers. Apart from being fertile a short pruning is recommended. Merlot is prone to acarinosis in some climates, it adapts well to clay and limestone soils. Merlot is a variety with very high risk to droughts, winter and spring frosts. It is also very sensitive to downy mildew, botrytis and leafhopper insects.
Merlot variety ripens easily so it tends to be more planted than its fellow Cabernet Sauvignon, offering dense, gentle, fresh wines. Equally to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, wines can be herbaceous if the grape is not completely ripened, though Merlot can contribute with fruity and fleshy personality, balancing any tannic sensation.
Merlot is one of the most cultivated varieties in the world and all over France, being Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon where is most common. For a long time it has been considered a second class variety until mid 19th century, when wine growers noticed its good endurance to powdery mildew and it became much more popular. Its easy ripening, even in relatively cold years, plays a part in making it more interesting, so nowadays Merlot plantations are bigger than Cabernet Sauvignon ones in Bordeaux.
Merlot wines are much fruity, with less tannic structure and can be consumed younger than Cabernet Sauvignon ones. Usually Merlot wines display jammy plum notes with a rich and elegant silky sensation as for instance great wines from Pomerol appellation as Château Petrus.
In Spain, Merlot is not as important as in France or Italy, being Cataluña, Navarra, Aragón and Castilla La Mancha its main production areas. Generally it is used blended with other varieties such as Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon to add fleshiness in Penedés and Conca de Barberà. Tomàs Cusiné at Costers del Segre appellation elaborates a Bourdeaux style Merlot wine named Geol, but the best examples of Merlot are Caus Lubis from Can Ràfols dels Caus and Torcas in Navarra.