Ten grape myths and legends

Merlot

The myth: ‘Merlot means “blackbird” in French’

People have always thought up stories for how plants and animals got their names, how the leopard got is spots and so on. The folklore in southwestern France is that Merlot got its name from the blackbird.

Not only is it the bird called ‘merle‘ in French, the black grapes of the vine match the blackbird’s plumage and the animal has a particular fondness for the fruit.

The truth: Although blackbirds may not be the greatest scourge known to Merlot-growers, the etymology of its name is, in all likelihood, true.

The earliest mention of Merlot in Libourne is dated to 1783-4 where it is described as making, “a black and excellent wine”. A further treatise on the grape in 1824 introduces the modern spelling and explains: “The name merlot was given to this variety because the blackbird likes this grape very much.”

The link is made all the stronger because although the French for blackbird is already a very close fit, in the local Occitan dialect its name is ‘merlau‘, which is even closer as you’ll no doubt agree.

2 Responses to “Ten grape myths and legends”

  1. Kent Benson says:

    Another common grape myth is the still prevalent claim by Argentine producers that their Bonarda is from Italy. DNA profiling has shown it to be the Savoie variety, Douce Noire, also known as Charbono, Corbeau, and Charbonneau.

  2. DC says:

    Can’t quite see how number 10, Merlot, is a “myth” when the author goes on to say that the “folklore” is “in all likelihood true.”?

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