Hand-selected wines from 500+
Australian wineries delivered to your door!

Alert

The maximum quantity permitted for this item is , if you wish to purchase more please call 1300 303 307
Wine

Merlot Members Tasting

Merlot is a mystery to a lot of us. Many other red wine grapes have much more recognisable varietal personalities, giving them more immediate impact than Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, nearly always says ‘Cabernet’ emphatically, via varietal cues that cut across the vagaries of region, climate, winemaking, and culture. Blackcurranty character, leafy austerity, angular, savoury personality and tannic backbone mark Cabernet-based wines, apparent even in warmer, riper versions. So it is with Pinot Noir’s distinctive fruit characters, softness and silken structure. Pinot Noir says Pinot Noir loud and clear, but what of Merlot?

Confusing Merlot’s identity crisis is the multiplicity of different styles available. In the coolest places, the variety’s leafiness can become too herbal and green; in the warmest places, it can be big, jammy and soupy. When overcropped and made on an industrial scale, Merlot can be washed out, sometimes sweet, a simple quaffer. In the middle of all this, we find Merlot’s ideal spot in skillfully tended vineyards in temperate areas. Here we encounter suggestions of plum, mulberry and fruitcake, raspberry, cherry, violet, spice and dried herb hints, maybe chocolate and olive from oak input. These wines tend to be soft, plump and juicy, worthy of plenty of attention as a friendlier type of red wine than tannic Cabernet or Shiraz. Compared to Cabernets, Merlots are generally much lower in methoxypyrazines too. These compounds in grapes give raw, green, herbaceous characters that can be shrill and unpleasant, another reason for good Merlot’s friendly personality.

MayJun18-MerlotMT-article1.jpg

Cabernet’s comrade

Merlot’s historic role as a blending variety also tends to compromise its individual identity. In its Bordeaux home, its early ripening characteristics act as insurance against the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, especially across difficult vintages. Merlot develops higher sugar levels and riper fruit characters weeks before Cabernet, and it’s planted much more widely in the Bordeaux region as a result. Its rich, supple personality tempers Cabernet’s more severe traits in a blend, and it usually doesn’t need nearly as much mellowing bottle age to be gluggable.

MayJun18-MerlotMT-article5.jpgMayJun18-MerlotMT-article6-(1).jpg

Around the world

Merlot’s fortunes have been improving worldwide over the last few decades as plantings have expanded into new territory. Chile has been at the forefront and has built a large export market for easy-sipping Merlot.

In the Old World, Merlot has been replacing other more mediocre varieties in vineyards across the European continent. Its international appeal and reputation for friendly wine has supported vast new plantings in places like France’s south-west as the French hit back after the inroads New World wineries have made in their traditional markets. French wine drinkers possibly don’t know Merlot by name very well, but they like it and so do their international customers.

American consumers have an idea what to expect from Merlot – softness, maybe a little sweetness, easy drinking. New Zealanders are also familiar with Merlot’s easy manners and the variety has traditionally sparred with Pinot Noir as the red of choice for Kiwis. In recent times, NZ Pinot has been ascendant, but Merlot is still in the mix. Generally, Australians are much less Merlot-aware.

No mention of Merlot can be made without referring to the cult American movie Sideways. In the USA, Merlot is the second most popular red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly due to vast quantities of soft, low tannin reds that appeal to wine novices. In Sideways, made in 2004, wine tragic and wine snob Miles rails loudly against Merlot. “If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f…ing Merlot,” he declares, and his comments contributed to a drop in Merlot sales in the USA, the UK, and probably Australia. Merlot has recovered, but I suspect a slightly negative perception lingers, helped by Merlot’s lack of a distinct varietal identity in the minds of many consumers.

MayJun18-MerlotMT-article2.jpg

Taste expectations

So to discover what makes Merlot tick, we recently gathered together a panel of eight keen Merlot fans from the ranks of Wine Selectors Members for a tasting dinner at Melbourne’s Papa Goose restaurant. Joining them were Selector publisher, Paul Diamond and yours truly. Sixteen wines from across Australia were served masked in brackets of four. South Australia was represented by seven wines from a diversity of regions, with the emphasis on somewhat cooler places like the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley and Limestone Coast/Coonawarra regions. Victorian wines included examples from the Yarra Valley, the Pyrenees and the warm vineyards of Rutherglen, while New South Wales and Western Australia presented a cross-section of vineyard sources.

As we sat down to taste, we made a quick survey of what the Members looked for in Merlot.

“I like Merlot because it’s not too heavy,” said Wine Selectors Member, Darren Dean, “It’s soft, easy to drink, sweet and smooth.”

Fellow Member Ingrid Fraser agreed. “They are soft, complete wines, plump and lovely,” she said.

Paul looked for, “consistency of mouthfeel, smooth texture, seamlessness.”

Softness and smoothness were terms most tasters used to describe Merlot’s general appeal. Were these characteristics reinforced as the dinner progressed and the group came to terms with the wines served?

MayJun18-MerlotMT-article3.jpgMayJun18-MerlotMT-article4.jpg

Paired to perfection

Matching food and wine is much discussed in the gastronomic world. Carefully constructed dishes, devised with a particular type of wine in mind, can offer experiences that transcend the simple idea of eating and drinking.

When we consider food-friendly wines, the softer, lighter, lower tannin drops offer more food compatibilities than bigger, tougher wines. Thus, Pinot Noir, or softer, cool climate style Shiraz, works well where the big bruisers fall short. On this basis, Merlot should excel as a food wine, and as the dinner progressed, the pairings proved harmonious.

This was due to Papa Goose chef Neale White’s intuitive ability to create Merlot-compatible dishes to complement the wines.

The four course menu began with a superb dish that echoed Merlot’s charm. Cured and smoked duck breast was accompanied by beetroot, raspberry and red sorrel, all flavours that dovetailed superbly with the first bracket of wines.

Gnocchi with king oyster mushroom, tarragon and amaretti cream pointed up the depths of the following group of four wines, with rich flavours and textures woven through aromatic ones.

Eyebrows were raised when we saw that the porterhouse with red wine sauce was coming with caraway coleslaw – caraway can be formidable – but the dish’s subtlety actually drew out some of the foresty, herbal notes in the wines, making the sum of the parts far more than the individual inputs.

Cheese can be problematic with a lot of wines, but the mild, mature Pynegana Cheddar, served to finish dinner, had fruity accompaniments of chutney, quince paste and muscatels to temper it. Merlot stood up to the entire menu, confirming its delicious suitability at the table.

The dinner confirmed in everybody’s eyes that Australian Merlot does indeed have its own distinct personality, and that it deserves to be centre stage alongside better-known brethren like Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot should be on everybody’s shopping list.

You might also like

Wine
Will the real Pinot G please stand up
Words by Mark Hughes on 30 May 2016
Pinot Grigio and Pinto Gris are two of our most popualr white wines. Are they the same? What is the difference? Which do we prefer? Is it all to do with fashion and marketing? We held a Wine Selectors Members' Tasting to answer these questions and more. About four years ago, Selector ran a State of Play tasting on Pinot Gris/Grigio where the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel reviewed over 60 of the best Pinot Gris/Grigio in the country. Apart from collating a great list of the top scoring wines, what we hypothesised at the end of this tasting was the fact that Australia may in fact produce a wine that is not strictly Pinot Gris and not strictly Pinot Grigio, but instead, a gorgeous white that we labelled as ‘Pinot G’. To explain this further, we have to go back, (it sounds counter-intuitive, but stick with me, as it is a bit of a ‘grey’ area). If you didn’t get that joke, here’s the explanation – Grigio and Gris both mean ‘grey’, but in different languages because Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape, just grown and celebrated in different areas of Europe. Grigio, as the name suggests, is the Italian version, grown predominantly in the regions of Fruili, Veneto and Alto Adige. It is generally picked early and produces a fresh, zesty style with some savoury characters. Gris is the French style, cultivated mainly in the region of Alsace. Its general characteristics are of a rich, full-bodied wine with plump stone fruit flavours and some spice. Popular means ‘plant it’ Although Pinot G has been planted in Australia since about 1980, it has only been in the last decade or so that it has really become popular. And when I say popular – it is immense – five fold since 2006. When this happens, every winemaker and his dog chuck in a few vines in an attempt to earn some dollars at their cellar door. And why not, that’s business. But, one of the problems is that Grigio gets made in a region that might be better suited to Gris, Gris gets made in a region perhaps more ideal for Grigio, and both get made in regions that are perhaps not suited to either. Furthermore, because the name ‘Grigio’ sounds a bit trendier at the moment, the marketing folk insist on putting Pinot Grigio on the label, even when the style of wine is really that of a Pinot Gris. The end result is that it is all very confusing for the consumer. All we want is a nice white wine! The Members rally
To help in this battle to better understand the wines we drink, we asked three Wine Selectors Members (and a guest of a Member) to come into Wine Selectors to join the Panel and taste their way through 16 Pinot Grigio/Gris, handpicked from noted producers across the country.   Long-term members Jeffrey Roberts, Julie Hughes (yes, my wife), and Josh Doolan (plus his guest Linda Thomas) sat down with Wine Selectors T asting Panellists Trent Mannell and Adam Walls , and Selector publisher Paul Diamond for an afternoon of fun and informative vinous examination. Before we even poured a glass, a quick   Q&A confirmed what we had surmised – that the general drinker found it difficult to delineate between an Australian Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, and that most consumed Grigio more often than Gris, except for Julie, who came into the tasting not really a fan of either style, but admitting she had only tried a few. The wines of the Pinot Gris/Grigio tasting Bracket 1 – Pinot Grigio David Hook 2015 Adina Vineyard 2015 Primo Estate Joseph d’Elena 2015 Tomich T Woodside Vineyard 2015 Norfolk Rise 2015 Bracket 2 – Pinot Grigio Devil’s Corner 2015 Ninth Island 2015 Sam Miranda 2015 Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine 2015 Gapsted Valley Selection 2014 Bracket 3 – Pinot Gris Eden Road The Long Road 2015 Austins Wines Six Foot Six 2015 Natasha Mooney La Bise 2015 Pipers Brook 2014 Coombe Farm 2014 Lisa McGuigan Platinum Collection 2013 The Grigio brackets
The range of styles of these wines was on show from the first Grigio bracket. Jeffrey, Josh and Linda were all taken with the plush fruit and savoury aspects of the David Hook Pinot Grigio 2015 from the Hunter Valley , while the Panel felt the Tomich T Woodside Vineyard Pinot Grigio 2015 (Adelaide Hills) and the Norfolk Rise Pinot Grigio 2015 ( Mount Benson ) had more of those Grigio varietal characters: crisp, bright pear and Granny Smith apple flavour with savoury notes and a umami-like persistence. When anyone gets the chance to taste 16 wines in a row opposite some of the best palates in the business, they embark on a real education. Apart from learning about the subtleties of wine, what our Members discover, as do all our guests who come in for these tastings, is that they actually do have quite a discerning palate. They know what they like, and what they don’t, but the main difference is the ability to describe and catalogue all the vinous information. But once they have some understanding of what to look for in the wine, the varietal characteristics, and the differences in styles, they quickly display some real wine tasting nous. This new skill set was on show with the second bracket of Pinot Grigio, as the scores of the Members and Panel started to align. Sourced from cooler climates than the first bracket, these Grigio were tighter and more acidic. Jeffery, Josh and Linda were all taken with the Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio 2015 (Tamar Valley), which was described as having excellent balance between the juicy fruit and fine acid frame, while the Sam Miranda Pinot Grigio 2015 ( Alpine / King Valley ) also appealed with its bright, ripe fruit and restrained persistence. However, Julie stuck to her pre-tasting mantra and was non-plussed by either of the Grigio brackets, finding it hard to get past a taste she described as ‘bitter’. The Gris The Gris bracket showed the differences in style between Grigio and Gris. While there was the characteristic pear and green apple fruit, the Gris had a fuller texture and almost creamy mouthfeel. Julie came to the party giving great scores to the Austins Six Foot Six Pinot Gris 2015, which she described as dense, layered and soft, as well as the Coombe Farm Pinot Gris 2014 ( Yarra ) and the Lisa McGuigan Pinot Gris 2013, which found favour with luscious soft acid and juicy savouriness. The end result The fact that there were 10 Grigio and six Gris in the tasting is reflective of the popularity of the styles in Australia. Grigio is more trendy, sells better and pairs well with summery dishes such as seafood and mezze plates, while Gris has a more acquired taste, matching well with richer, creamier recipes. However, the big thing to come from this tasting was the development of winemaking techniques that show that noted producers, at least, are making Grigio and Gris more in line with their European counterparts. Perhaps, we can now drop the ‘Pinot G’ label and confidently use Grigio and Gris. Try these wines yourself and see if you agree.  
Wine
Best of Member Wine Tastings 2016
Words by Mark Hughes on 17 Jan 2017
In 2016, some fortunate Wine Selectors members had the pleasure of joining our tasting panel to put Hunter Shiraz, Pinot G and Sparkling to the taste test. Hunter Shiraz
The winemakers of the  Hunter Valley  craft a style of  Shiraz  that's unique to the region with its vibrant, fruit-driven appeal. While wineries and experts are on board with this style, we wanted to find out what wine-lovers think. Our guests discovered Shiraz that lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied and savoury, but also found the Hunter could produce excellent fuller styles such as those from The Little Wine Company and  Pepper Tree  . The wine that drew unanimous praise was the  De Iuliis Shiraz 2014  ,which was described as having "beautiful balance with long, spicy, elegant tannins." Overall, our members vowed they'll explore and add more Hunter Shiraz to their collection. Find out more about our  Hunter Valley Shiraz member tasting experience here. Pinot Gris and Grigio
Over the last few years,  Pinot Gris and Grigio  have become very popular white wines, but generally the drinking public don't know the difference between the two, so we invited some members to discuss the difference in styles. In a nutshell, Grigio is the Italian style that's fresh and zesty with a savourycharacter, while the French Gris is richer with more body, stonefruit flavours and some spice. Mainly due to marketing, winemakers in Australia have tended to use the trendier Grigio on the label, even if the wine is more in Gris style, which understandably only adds to the confusion. Fortunately, the big thing to come out of this tasting was the development of winemaking techniques that show that noted producers, at least, are making Grigio and Gris more in line with their European counterparts. Find out more about the  differences between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio we discovered here. Sparkling
Which  Sparkling  is trending this summer? We asked some lucky members:  Traditional, Prosecco or Blanc de Blanc?  The results of this very festive tasting revealed that all three styles are well liked, it was just a matter of what type of occasion our guests were attending that would determine their choice of bubbly. One of our members, Trudi Arnall voiced everyone’s thoughts when she said, “If I was to turn up for an afternoon BBQ with the kids in the pool, a  Prosecco  would be great. If I was going to a dinner party, I’d go with the  traditional Sparkling  and if I really wanted to impress, I’d go with a Blanc de Blanc with some age.” Find out more about the results of our tasting  here  or learn more about the  difference between Prosecco and sparkling wines  with our handy infographic and guide. Find out more about becoming a Wine Selectors Member today!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
1 case has been added to your cart.
Cart total: xxx
1 case, 12 bottles, 3 accessories