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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Merlot: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

nani gigantum humeris insidentes

The liberal licensing of such a noted phrase could apply equally to makers of the subject variety, as it could my own attempts to understand it further through tasting with a scribe and palate I consider one of the best around.

Well a man can learn in only two ways: reading and by association with smarter people than himself*.  So, keen to understand Australian Merlot a little further, I did just that.  

Merlot, another maligned grape variety, suffering from bad publicity (think the protestations of Miles "I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot" in Sideways) and possibly poor winemaking (conjecture).

In no way is the sample set below meant to be definitive.  It was a private tasting limited to some well regarded examples that I happened to have in the cellar, plus one or two others added in to the sample set to add some 'colour'.

Tobin 'Elliott' Merlot - Granite Belt - 2009 - 14%  - $35
Good aromatics, berry mix with suggestions of spice.  In the mouth, smooth yet lacking a little body; the tannin is more up front, coming early on and supported by berry fruit.  Some good savoury character within.  89 - Good

Blue Poles Reserve Merlot - Margaret River - 2008 - 14% - $35
An elegance to it that likely comes from having had a little time to settle into itself.  Bright, hints of florals, lifted sweet accents, yet with those savoury notes of tapenade that we came to see across the better examples.  Good body, with excellent firm tannin.  93 - Very Good

Blue Poles Reserve Merlot - Margaret River - 2010 - 13.2% - $35 
Interesting comparison having the '08 and '10 alongside each other.  The 2010 a little shyer, darker, more savoury.  Good sensitive oak handling here, give this fellow a little time in the decanter and it becomes more expressive - excellent fruit red fruits, brambly character start to come forward a little further.  Looking at this 24 hours later I'm liking it event more.  Good firm tannin.  Original score from tasting, with the addition of a + 93+ - Very Good.

Kyeema Vineyards Merlot - Canberra District - 2008 - 13.1% - $46
Reductive on opening, get past that and see the fine, 'polished', smooth and glossy entrance the wine makes.  Plum and red fruits abound; a peak of acid, savoury hints and the first of the wines tasted to show real spicy attributes.  Peppery, lighter tannin than seen before.  92 - Very Good

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Merlot - Yarra Valley - 2010 - 13.8% - $35
Tapenade, a herby note, with darker fruit tones than otherwise seen.  Plumper than other examples, soft, clean and smooth.  Good graphite tannin with a leafy aspect.  Not the most characterful example, but still a very good wine.  Easy drinking.  91 - Very Good

Shottesbrooke Merlot - McLaren Vale - 2010 - 14.5% - $19.99
Leafy, plummy, almost Cabernet-esque dusty note.  Fuller, sweeter on the palate, immediately followed by an astringency toward the back palate.  An over-oaked pudding. 86/ 87 - Average 

Mollydooker 'The Scooter' Merlot - McLaren Vale - 17% - $20    
Why anyone would want to make a Merlot at 17% is beyond me.  Let alone buy/ drink?  Medicinal is about as kind as I can be.  Not Rated

So there we go, notwithstanding the last couple of examples, Australian Merlot can be in a very good place.  Sweeping statements about its quality, or lack of, can be seen as rather lazy.  Like any subjective matter it partly is an issue of taste, but also of judicious selection.  Stand on the shoulders of giants, look at the best examples and see where the future could be.
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* Tweaked quote from American performer/ commentator Will Rogers


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