Merlot’s origins can be traced to France, where it provides the base for the world famous wines of Bordeaux’s St Emilion and Pomerol, which combine richness, concentration and elegance. Merlot was introduced into Australia in the 1960s to broaden Australia’s offerings, though it has had limited success. Merlot has had a chequered history in Australia and due to its unreliable ability to ripen it is not as widely planted as it is in France and Italy. Merlot has proven itself to be an admirable grape for blending, most notably with Cabernet Sauvignon as it provides a fleshy mid-palate that Merlot often lacks.
Merlot is an enigma in Australia’s vinous landscape as there is no set style that defines it as an archetype. It is grown in nearly every region except the very coldest, but excels in the cooler areas. Merlot has an image of being an easy-going variety, making palatable, medium-full bodied reds. It is a highly specific grape and the nuances are in fact very subtle. Merlot is a grape that performs easily at a very basic level, but then requires a great deal of finessing to achieve the finest expressions.
Australian Merlot is enjoyed for its roundness and soft expression; its combination of berry and vivid plum-like flavours and silky mid palate appeals to those seeking something less powerful than a straight Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Many Merlots are often lower in flavour, body and tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon and tend to age more quickly. Its soft texture means that Merlot is a good red wine for white wine drinkers. Throughout the growing season it can be temperamental and has the propensity to produce mixed bunches of large berries. This means that some wines are tough and show green tannins. In order to avoid this, Merlot is sometimes left to slightly over-ripen, producing examples that verge towards the porty end of the flavour spectrum.
Eden Valley Merlot
Eden Valley Merlot displays ripe, fleshy fruit with cassis and licorice characters. In good years expect tight, perfumed wines that age very well.
McLaren Vale Merlot
Merlot has found favour here, where the microclimate of the region can divert around the problem patches in the growing season to produce fruit that is reliable and consistent.
Adelaide Hills Merlot
The cool climate of the Adelaide Hills ensures that growing Merlot can be challenging. Carefully selected sites capture the more delicate floral characters.
Barossa Valley Merlot
Not recognised for Merlot, the Barossa still has some well-regarded sites. Expect layers of plum, cassis and dusty mocha-like tannins.
Margaret River Merlot
It is not surprising that Merlot does well here in the wake of Cabernet Sauvignon’s success. It is often blended, but the single varietal bottlings are also among Australia’s finest.
The high altitude, cool, continental climate of Orange has produced some excellent Merlot over recent years. This region is earning a reputation for its high quality, nicely balanced Merlots.
Hunter Valley Merlot
In good years the Hunter can produce great medium-bodied Merlot with spicy aromas of raspberry, blackcurrant, cigar box and soft tannins.
Murray Darling Merlot
This hot, dry region produces ripe, fruity Merlot with aromas of leafy cherries, mocha and dark plum characters.