Orange NSW is the perfect region for growing Merlot, and Debbie Lauritz has created a delightful example. Lifted and bright, this Merlot is fragrant with sweet plums, leafiness, hints of dark chocolate and subtle oak. This medium bodied elegantly structured wine is smooth as silk on the palate with spiced earthy notes and dark chocolate.
Merlot is one of Australia's most important red grape varieties. Behind Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, it comes in third with a production total over 90,000 tonnes. There has been a dramatic increase in plantings over the last eight years with production soaring by 900%! It is a versatile variety, playing an important role in blends as well as being successful as a straight varietal. However, it suffers from a touch of an identity crisis, as there is no one statement that adequately defines the character of Australian Merlot.
Merlot is most famous in its homeland of Bordeaux in France, where it is used to make some of the world's greatest and most expensive wines. It is most suited to the right bank appellations of Pomerol and St Emilion, however it is also used in the prestigious left bank appellations of the Medoc to flesh out the mid palate of Cabernet dominant wines. Over the last ten years, plantings have rapidly expanded across the globe, most notably into California, South America, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
Merlot is grown in just about every region of Australia, only shying away from the coldest of vineyards. In the hot regions of the Riverina and Murray Valley, it is grown in huge quantities, fulfilling the needs of Australia's thirsty mass export market. Merlot helps our big export brands have richness and softness. From a quality point of view, Australia's best Merlot comes from well-managed vineyards in cooler areas such as the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley, Orange and the Limestone Coast (including Coonawarra). In Western Australia, it is particularly successful when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
The one characteristic of Merlot that is universal is its fleshy, supple mid-palate. This is the reason it makes such a good blending component. Traditionally it has been blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, where its inclusion improves the balance and structure of a wine. However, as a straight varietal, Australian Merlot can often look simple due to the absence of prominent front and back palates. This is why few great varietal Merlots exist.
For Merlot to be good, it must be picked at optimum ripeness, to avoid the presence of herbal characters. Flavours of plums, red currant, mint, pimento, game, earth and leather can be found. Its tannins are invariably soft, making Merlot a good early drinking style, but this does limit its aging potential. Being medium bodied and restrained in style, Merlot suits French oak over American oak, due to its more subtle influence.
Because of the soft, fleshy nature of Merlot, it partners food
exceptionally well. Pasta, roasted meats or Mediterranean vegetables
compliment the variety. For cheese, pate or game, try a Cabernet
Merlot blend, where you can enjoy all the supple sweet fruit characters
of Merlot, enhanced with some acidity and tannin from the Cabernet.
© Toni Paterson 2004