We’re all familiar with wines made from Merlot – not surprisingly, as it’s the 2nd mostly widely planted wine grape variety in the world after Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s, perhaps, best known as one of the key red wine grapes of Bordeaux, but at least a dozen countries have major plantings of the variety and, despite the views of one of the principals in the film “Sideways”, it’s often responsible for some excellent red wines.
Yet, as I mentioned last time in my Bristol Wine Blog, in Switzerland’s Ticino region, where Merlot represents 80% of the plantings, they don’t just use it for red wines in a number of different styles, but also for a little rosé and even some white wines. So how does that work?
Pick up any wine grape and squeeze it and, with very few exceptions, the juice will be colourless (even if the skin is black). So, by separating the juice quickly from the skins and fermenting it alone, you can easily make white wine from dark skinned grapes. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Champagne where 2 of the grapes used – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – are both dark-skinned. But, leave the juice from black grapes in contact with the skins for a few hours and you get rosé, for a few days or longer and the result is red wine. So, in theory, white Cabernet Sauvignon or white Shiraz is quite possible – although I’ve never seen one – but white Merlot: in the Ticino, certainly!
And the taste? The white Merlots we had were refreshing, pleasant quaffing wines; interesting as novelty value, but no more. Clearly, the character of Merlot comes from the skin-contact and the red wine making process. But, if that’s the grape variety you grow, it makes sense to make the most of it.
By the way, if you’re wondering about red Chardonnay or Riesling, don’t! They’re both light-skinned varieties, so there’s nothing to tint the juice red.