6 Must Try Merlots

Written by
Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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Merlot is a wine for all seasons. Wondering where to start? Here are 6 top drops to try now.

What is Merlot? 

Merlot is a red grape most famous for making iconic wines in Bordeaux, France. The densely-packed, tannin-filled, plum-driven wines of the old world that have no equal, although there are some very fine attempts. It works beautifully in blends with its bedfellows Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Merlot excels on its own though, it’s age worthy and complex and the very best examples will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Traditional vs. modern

As modern wines cater to modern palates, and some of those palates are not accustomed to the dense, chewy, savoury wines of Bordeaux, the wines have been softened and plumped up; designed to be round and more forgiving. While some may have lost their greatness in comparison to more traditional styles, others have retained their integrity and are shining examples of what Merlot is all about. Let us guide you through some examples of Merlot at its finest.

6 of the best

Katnook Estate Merlot 

The flagship grapes of Coonawarra are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and Wayne Stehbens from Katnook knows how to get the very best from them. This is a mighty wine with dense concentration, beautifully resolved tannins and wonderful mouthfeel. It will reward careful cellaring, but don’t let that stop you opening a bottle to see what all the fuss is about. A chilly afternoon with slow cooked beef short ribs on silky mash will be beautiful partnership.

Leconfield Merlot 

The Leconfield Merlot is made by Paul Gordon; again, from the Coonawarra region and another winery that also makes terrific Cabernet Sauvignon. It is no coincidence that these two grapes can be equally successful in the same area. You would only need to look at the similar sites and expression in Bordeaux to realise that if you can succeed in making good Cabernet Sauvignon, you can also make good Merlot. The Leconfield is a little lighter that the Katnook, but no less impressive. It has persistent tannins wrapped around a core of concentrated plummy fruit and dark spice. This too will suit longer ageing, although you will find great joy in drinking now too. Try pairing this with a lamb tagine.

Forester Estate Cabernet Merlot

As we note the ability to grow great Merlot where Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, it is also important to note how well they work together in a blend. In many instances, Cabernet Sauvignon is shortened to just Cabernet on a label when it is blended with Merlot. The Forester is a terrific Margaret River expression of this synergy, showing dark blackcurrant notes and ripe plum character side by side. It has wonderful texture, led by firm tannins and lovely fresh acidity. 

Taylors Estate Merlot

From the Clare Valley the Taylors Estate Merlot is an easy-going wine with plenty of upfront and lovely dark baking spices like cloves and cinnamon. The fruit is blackcurrant and cassis with lifted floral notes too. It’s a versatile wine that will be best over the next 2-3 years; a lovely match for chunky beef stew on a cold Sunday afternoon.

Grant Burge Hillcot Merlot 

In the Barossa, they never have a shortage of sunshine, and it is this consistent warm weather that delivers such dark bold flavours and generous fruit expression. In cold areas Merlot can suffer and be too green and mean and seemingly under ripe, but you’ll see no such thing with the Hillcot Merlot from Grant Burge. Don’t fall into the trap of only having big red meat dishes with big wines though, this and a few pancakes of Peking duck would be fantastic.

Nederburg Merlot

From Paarl in South Africa, a county with an incredible and often overlooked wine history, the wines of Nederburg are legendary. This is light-bodied, almost similar to some entry level French Merlot and it has a typical earthy, meaty side to it. Lovely firm tannins and red and black fruits, this is the wine to braai by. A braai is a South African barbecue and the Nederburg Merlot would be perfect with a simple chargrilled piece of beef, or a few strips of biltong while you watch the Springboks take on the Wallabies.

Merlot is one of the great red grapes of the world, so ignore it at your peril. These 6 wines represent a host of different expressions of the grape, but the one thing they share is quality and value for money.