Plush? Tick. Juicy? Tick. Smooth? Double tick. Over-rated? Hang on a minute… Although it’s sneered at by amateur connoisseurs who know enough about wine to tell when a vintage is crap, but not enough to pick the right bottle in the first place, Merlot is one of Australia’s best reds—if you know where to look.
The statistics bear this out: Wine Intelligence research reveals that, behind closed doors, Merlot is one of Australian’s favourite red varietals, despite the prevalence of poor-quality Merlot clones that have cropped up over the years.
“Why has this happened?”, you might be tempted to ask? “Surely all wines face competition from poor quality imitations?” Well, as veteran wine-maker Jim Irvine told The Australian, Merlot faces a few extra challenges.
“So much Merlot in Australia is planted on the wrong sites — people expect that it will just grow like Shiraz or Grenache, but it doesn’t — it hates wet feet, for a start, it needs well-drained soil, so if you plant it in clay you’ll have problems, the fruit won’t set properly.”
“The day will come,” he continued, “When we get rid of the Merlots that are lean, green and mean, the poorly made Merlots — they’re a damnation. Merlot has a hard enough time being heard above the cacophony of Shiraz.”
Fortunately, he said that back in 2014, and unless you’ve been living under the curse of a six-year Merlot-infused hangover, it’s now 2020: that day has arrived. In the sense that Merlot is finally being heard, anyway (we doubt we’ll ever be truly rid of the sub-par versions).
But as long as you know which ones to pick, you can ride the Merlot wave without any nasty surprises, wooing your next date or impressing the in-laws with your impeccable taste.
We’ve enlisted the help of some of Australia’s top sommeliers, provided some insights from our own experience and scoured the best online alcohol stores for the best-rated bottles.
Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard Merlot
Picked by: Nick Stamford, Managing Director of MW Wines in Collingwood, Australia’s largest independent wine auction house.
Distinguishing features: Classic flavours of cassis, plum and cedar this is serious Merlot with dry grippy tannins and sound palate weight. Lovely balance between ripe fruit and structure make this one of the best Aussie Merlots on the market.
Buy @ MW Wines $60
God’s Hill Black Olive Merlot
Picked by: Luc Wiesman, D’Marge founder and avid wine drinker.
Distinguishing features: Ruby red. Brilliant. Shiny. Elegant. Fruity and Complex. And that’s all before it hits your mouth. On the tongue, you’ll note it’s spicy, with hints of raspberry, blackcurrant and plum. All up: this full-bodied beauty has great length, with lingering ripened wild berries to finish. In other words: yum.
Buy @ Just Wines $120
Blue Poles Reserve Merlot
Picked by: Mark Willoughby, head honcho at Esoterica Wine & Food.
Distinguishing Features: A serious merlot made to rival the great wines of Bordeaux’s right bank, St Emilion. Merlot can be an undervalued grape, but unfortunately, much of the wine made from the grape helps perpetuate this message. This one though is full flavoured with dark berries and oak and can be cellared for 5-10 years if one has the patience. A wine that many won’t know, but one that must become an Australian classic. Open the bottle for an hour prior to drinking if you want to appreciate it in its youth.
Buy @ Langtons $40
Dan Murphy’s two cents: Lovely plum dark berry and cedary cigar box characters slip seamlessly into a finish that seems everlasting. Aged for 22 months in French oak, the swathes of blackcurrant are a delight to the senses.
“Plum and red fruits, tobacco, mint, vanilla and cedar. It’s medium bodied, round and ripe with an appealing mix of sweet and savoury flavours, soft powdery tannin and good length.” (expert reviewer, Gary Walsh).
Dormilona Pykyes Margaret River, WA
Picked by: Chiara Danieli, head sommelier at Matteo Downtown.
Distinguishing features: Super juicy, vibrant and earthy. Wild fermented in the open and left to macerate on skins for a month. Bottled on a fruit day with no additives, fining & filtration, only minimal sulphur at bottling.
Grant Burge Hillcot Merlot
Dan Murphy’s two cents: At last an affordable Merlot with some real varietal character! Grant Burge Hillcot range has soft ripe red berry and raspberry aromas on the nose. Followed by ripe plum and cherry flavours enhanced by well-integrated oak.
Buy @ Dan Murphy’s $21.90
Penny’s Hill Malpas Road Merlot
Just Wines two cents: This Merlot is a wine of prominent delicacy and exquisite tannin structure, with a rich and smooth dark fruit palate. The colour of the wine is dark cherry red with bright hues. From the glass unfurls alluring aromas of plum, dark cherry, black olive and tar, with nuances of chocolate. It tends to be medium-bodied, with zingy minerality, light acidity and silky tannins leading to a smooth finish.
“Deep colour and a fairly strongly oak-tinged bouquet, while the palate is medium to full-bodied and firm with some oak tannins and a little chew on the finish. A bold, straightforward red which is well-made and solid. A fairly straight up-and-down style. It will take some age well” (expert reviewer, Huon Hooke).
Buy @ Just Wines $24
Fox Creek Family Merlot
Just Wines two cents: The perfumed nose emanates rhubarb and strawberry aromas along with a hint of cardamom, cinnamon and mace. This enticing bouquet smoothly makes way for a luxurious palate opening with bright raspberry and strawberry fruit. Plum and crème brûlée flavours follow, and integrating with oak, lead the generous palate to a finish marked by soft tannins. This Merlot has been crafted for consumption upon release whilst fresh and young.
McGuigan Black Label Merlot
Picked by: James Booth, D’Marge writer, avid vino slurper and wannabe connoisseur.
Distinguishing features: This 2017 McGuigan Merlot is as glib-tongued as it is rich. Soft, flavoursome colours dance on your palette—think ripe raspberry, cherry and plums integrated with subtle oak. Oh and the kicker? It’s easy on the wallet; most people agree this wine punches well above its price tag—a rarity in this day and age.