Grows well on clay rich soils (particularly on the right bank of Bordeaux in the districts of Pomerol and Fronsac) and is often considered the perfect foil for the tannic Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot offers plumy, raisiny fruit, with a hint of sweetness.
Unblended it is plump and soft on the palate, sweet and ripe on the nose and matures relatively early. Southern France has invested in new Merlot plantings with the growth of easy drinking varietal vin de pays and the opportunity to add a small amount to soften the tougher red wines of the south west like Madiran and Cahors.
Merlot has been a popular variety in northern Italy where it makes lighter wine with a grip of acidity. Merlot has also adapted well to become the staple red variety of Chile. The regions of Maipo, Colchagua and Rapel have been particularly successful. In USA, it has become the flagship varietal of Washington State, where it grows well, ungrafted, on sandy soils.
South Africa is also making some truly world class Merlots, particularly on the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch.