A classic variety, it partners Cabernet as the top variety and is also responsible for some of the most profound and priciest wines.
Next in importance to the Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, where it is useful in bringing lusciousness of fruit and a velvet like quality to the finish of wines which could otherwise be hard and austere. Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon it reduces the aging requirement of the former. While it is blended in the New world countries it is more commonly produced as a single variety.
Synonyms: Merleau, Bigney, Crabutet noir, Medoc noir, Petit merle, Vitraille, Semillion Rouge (Medoc ), Vitraille (Blanquefort), Bigney (Graves and Cadillac)
It has loose to compact cylindrical bunches which are small and sometimes winged. The berries are round, medium size and bluish-black and are larger and thinner skinned than the Cabernet Sauvignon berries. It is a high yielding variety, and ripens early. In the Bordeaux and other cool areas it is prone to coulure (failure of flowers to set) and rot.
As a variety it is capable of producing wines which are less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon and hence faster aging. But at the same time with a deep color, and capable of great richness, though lacking a certain complexity of taste and backbone.
The wines are often identified with as having a Cabernet Sauvignon like aroma with perhaps more specific aromas such as green olive, mint, honeyed blackcurrant or plum.
As a result of the rich round fruit character of the variety it can compete with spicier game or pair with birds such as pheasant or strongly herbed terrines. The sweet-fruit edge characteristic of the variety would also allow it to go with dishes with slightly sweet sauce like wine with dried fruits sauce or oyster sauce.