Softer, richer and more accessible than Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is always popular as a grape with immediate drinking appeal. Its forward open fruitiness makes the grape popular to many people including me. Chile in particular has played an important part in making the grape popular - you can't beat a straightforward Chilian Merlot.
As well as making good varietal wine though, Merlot's great fame is as a constituent part of the classic grape mixes of Bordeaux. And it is from this area that the grape gets its name; Merlot means "little blackbird" in Bordeaux slang. Here the grape plays an important part in softening the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Medoc and over in St Emilion and Pomerol it dominates the blend to produce wines of great richness and intensity.
I tasted our Clos René 2000 from Pomerol (£29.95) again the other day at a tasting and was amazed at the incredible richness and sheer density of this wine. Like most Pomerols it is forward and drinking now and will only improve with time.
Today Merlot is grown all over the world and has enjoyed huge
popularity in the USA where the top wines are excellent. This is a grape for the people, not for wine snobs - so if you think that the relative austerity of Cabernet Sauvignon makes it a better grape variety then that's fine - just stay in your ivory tower!