With just one line “I’m not drinking any f*cking Merlot!” the movie “Sideways” is believed to have delivered a decent hiding to the fine producers of wine made from this noble grape. For some strange reason a lot of wine consumers took this line as meaning that Merlot was now uncool and not really all that good after all.
To me, a winelover who is really uncool (I never stopped liking woody Chardonnay), it seems bizarre that lovers of wine would base their drinking decisions on a comment made in a movie but this is what seems to have happened here. The funny thing is, as covered by Rick Bakas in “3 Myths About Merlot and the Movie Sideways“, the comment was made because it was the character Miles’ ex-wife’s favourite wine and that’s it. Funnier still is that Miles’ favourite wine was actually a Merlot blend.
But hey, a negative comment about Merlot was made in a wine movie so it must be shite stuff! 😉 So became the thoughts of the kool kids.
Like I said, I’m pretty uncool and I’ve always liked wines made from Merlot. Yes, there’s been a lot of crap Merlot made over the years but crap wine can be made from any grape. I must admit though, unfortunately for Merlot it does lend itself towards being a little simple and boring if it’s made without love and attention. But well made Merlot is really good and some of the most expensive wines are Merlot driven.
It is true that Merlot can lack the oomph of the power machines, like those wines made from Cabernet or Barossa Shiraz for example, but it has its own special dimensions. As a more inexperienced wine drinker I used to find Merlot “soft and smooth” and I liked soft and smooth in a wine way back then. Now I experience subtle complexities in well made Merlot and it’s the soft and smooth nature of Merlot that helps deliver those complexities. The lack of “bite”, shall we put it, allows for all the complexities to shine without too much interruption. This also helps make it a great food wine.
I’ve been sent quite a bit of Australian Merlot to sample lately. Our local producers seem to be quite proud of their recent Merlot efforts and have been keen to show them off. I’ve honestly sensed this pride from them and it has been expressed in their wine.
Here’s a rundown on five of the best –
A relatively small producer from the Barossa Valley, Kies pride themselves on quality and it shines in their interesting Merlot. This wine was the lightest of all five and obviously quite young. Clearly made in a fresh fun fruit driven “drink now” style it was an easy wine to down while still delivering some noticeable subtle complexity at the end of each sip. It’s a warm weather red and would be nice sipping slightly chilled while sitting outdoors. It’s a good $20 bottle of wine.
As an interesting side-note, the wine from Kies is made by Jo Irvine and, as you’ll see as you read on, there’s some real Merlot pedigree being delivered to this wine.
James Irvine is the Merlot champion of the Barossa Valley. His love for Merlot shines in the various Merlot wines he produces and this entry-level wine doesn’t miss out on any of that love. Sourced primarily from the cooler sub-region of Eden Valley it displays quite a bit of earthy character that balances well with the berry flavours typical of Merlot. It was the perfect juice for the BBQ rump steaks we had with it. For around $22 this is a good value and well made everyday Merlot.
And if you haven’t noted there’s a connection yet, James is the father of Jo, the winemaker from Kies. James apparently made the wines from Kies for 20 years. We received our wines from Kies and Irvine totally independently so it’s interesting that they both ended up our way. I’m thankful they did.
I keep reading and hearing that Steven Raidis from Coonawarra is a good bloke but I haven’t met him. There’s something about the wines made by the Raidis family that radiates “good bloke” and you get that in this Merlot. It’s both gentle and fun at the same time. Fair even. I suppose that’s the well-balanced fruit and savoury characters combined with a bit of spiciness at the end. Complex but in a controlled manner. It’s just noice! And it went so well with the chicken and lamb souvlaki cooked on the BBQ. Worth the $28 or so if you want an interesting Merlot and something different to your typical Coonawarra Cabernet or Cabernet Merlot blend.
2012 was a sensational vintage in the Yarra Valley and the low yielding K-Block thrived. Tarrawarra are a great Yarra Valley producer and their Chardonnay is often regarded as one of the nation’s best. Is the Merlot up their somewhere too? Well it’s pretty good! This one is so full of character, from the rich purple hue to the beautiful aromas and then onto the delicious fruit driven flavours. There’s a bit of cool climate earthiness and you get a hint of the oak. All well balanced and more-ish. Another fine example of how good well made Merlot is. At $35 it’s worth spending that little more on if you’ve got it to spare.
This is the premium Merlot produced by James Irvine. The team at Irvine Wines are extremely proud of this wine and so they should be. It’s the pinnacle of how good Merlot made with love can be. There is just so much complexity to this wine and so much length of flavour. It just lasts and lasts in the mouth. You get loads of fruit driven characteristics from the typical blue and blackberries of Merlot to deep rich plum like flavours. And then there are hints of the cooler climate earthy characters that the Eden Valley delivers, like Tobacco and leather and a fine tannin structure, all in balance.
Rich and opulent, the 2009 Grand Merlot is deserving of the luxurious image put upon it by the Irvine brand. At $130 it’s not a price point everyone can afford but it is the sort of wine you’d splash out on if you wanted to experience Australian Merlot at its best and wanted something special, and had the coin to shake for it.
I’m glad I got to experience some good Aussie Merlot!