Soft, plush and early ripening, Merlot is the oft-maligned red grape of Bordeaux. Grown on clay and gravel soils, it’s the power and colour of Pomerol and St Émilion, giving some of the world’s greatest reds, including Pétrus and Le Pin, their signature velveteen texture. At Château Haut-Brion on Bordeaux’s left bank, Merlot’s gentle tannins and low acidity tempers the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, and plays a lesser, but still vital, role in other local blends. But beware low-cost Merlots grown outside of south-west France – it is also responsible for lakes of generic, uninteresting wines.