Merlot is a major grape variety though it has been loosing popularity as a single varietal in recent years. It is a large part of the success of the red wines of Bordeaux though often Cabernet Sauvignon gets all the credit. Originating in Bordeaux, there it is a frequent blending partner with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Unlike those two grapes it is also vinified alone in some parts of Bordeaux.
In the 1980’s and 90’s it became a popular varietal wine in California and other new world countries. Even there regulations often allowed other grapes to be blended with what was labeled as Merlot. So frequently you were still getting a Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon blend that was dominated by Merlot.
Merlot makes somewhat softer wines than the Cabernet’s with flavors of red plums and aromas of violets and raspberries. When over ripened it can get flabby loosing needed acidity. When treated with respect it can reward with wonderful full bodied wines bursting with flavor. In addition to the Merlot based wines from Bordeaux, I find Chile makes some fine examples. I enjoy it with lamb.