Merlot and friends
Merlot remains a conundrum in Australia. It’s one of our most underperforming grape varieties. It’s puzzling because there is so much good ready-drinking merlot in France.
Merlot is the most planted variety in the Bordeaux region, although most of us think of cabernet sauvignon first when we think of Bordeaux. It’s really only the great growths of the left bank – the Medoc – where cabernet sauvignon is the dominant variety.
Bordeaux is the source of vast volumes of modestly priced, ready-drinking red wine, and most of it is based on merlot. But, in Australia, merlot wines are often vegetal to the point of being unpleasant – astringent, tart, green – and because their fruit-weight is relatively light, they’re easily over-wooded by a careless winemaker. The median score in my recent tasting of about 40 merlots and merlot-driven blends was below bronze-medal standard.
Not unexpectedly, the average price of merlot wines is low.
On the other hand, there’s a handful of wines which are seriously good. Tapanappa’s Whalebone Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc 2012 (tasting) is an excellent wine, but we do expect that from both the winemaker (Brian Croser) and the price ($79). It’s a wine of real depth, structure and flavour appeal. A gold medal wine.
Tarrawarra Estate in the Yarra Valley is a consistently good merlot source and it came up trumps again with its 2013 K-Block (tasting). Parker Estate in Coonawarra also hit the sweet spot with its Terra Rossa merlot (tasting), and Stella Bella Serie Luminosa (tasting) also impressed. Di Giorgio Family Emporio (tasting) was very good, too, as long as you like minty wines. It’s a merlot cabernet blend from Coonawarra.
The best value wine was Balnaves The Blend (tasting), a mélange of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot which punches well above its weight at $19. And Rosily Vineyard (tasting), a straight merlot for $20 ex-winery, is a well-constructed drink-now style.
Shaw Vineyard Estate Merriman Reserve from the Canberra District (tasting) is also very good, albeit pricey at $60. This wine displays the aromaticity and lovely soft, fleshy texture that should – but often doesn’t – typify merlot wines.