Know your merlot
Merlot is the fifth most planted grape in New Zealand. Last year, 2013 is now being rated as one of the outstanding vintages in recent years and you will find many great, reasonably priced wines now available. These wines will age if you want to start a cellar, but are equally enjoyable now.
Merlot is best known as the partner of cabernet sauvignon, which interestingly is now known to be its genetic sibling. When blended together, they produce the most famous wines of Bordeaux.
Merlot offers ripe fruit to balance cabernet sauvignon’s herbal notes, tannins and acidity.
Hawke’s Bay is home to most of New Zealand’s merlot grapes and only small amounts are planted in other regions including Waiheke Island.
Merlot’s growth in New Zealand is largely due to its more reliable viticultural habits as it ripens earlier than cabernet sauvignon.
Where it comes from
The true expression of Merlot wines are made in the wineries of St Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux. Its full body, medium tannins and rich fruit flavours are prized for adding flesh to the more structured bones of Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux’s left-bank region.
Tip: When a wine is described as “Bordeaux” or “Bordeaux blend,” this means that it has been blended using the grapes of cabernet sauvignon, merlot along with cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot; all blended in different proportions depending on the vintage.
Where it grows
Merlot grows easily in a wide range of climates, soils and aspects; for this reason it is planted almost everywhere wine is made today. Merlot is now extensively planted in Italy and an important component of Super Tuscan wines. Other important merlot areas include California, Australia, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand.
Merlot is medium ruby to deep purple in hot climates. As the wine ages it develops brick tones.
As a young grape, ripe red and black plum aromas characterise merlot and the use of oak can add an overlay of cedar, spice and ‘cigar box’ type aromas. As it ages, merlot is best known for adding softness to blends, both in terms of taste and aroma, develop aromas of mocha, earth and spice.
The style of merlot is influenced by whether it is used as a blending grape with another, such as cabernet merlot, or as a single varietal wine. In general, merlot produces full-bodied, high-alcohol wines.
As a single varietal wine, merlot is full-bodied with medium to high tannins, soft red to black fruity flavours and, in a good vintage, it can have great length and ability to age in the bottle.
Try these wines
Wild Rock Gravel Pit Red Merlot Malbec: Rich dark black fruits with spice, oak. RRP $18
Crossroads Milestone Merlot 2013: Ripe black fruit with cedar and oak. Alc 13.5%, RRP $20
Alpha Domus The Pilot Merlot 2012: Red fruits with subtle oak adds a spicy influence.
Redmetal Vineyards Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2013: Merlot dominant blend with dark berries and plums. Alc 14%, RRP $18
Villa Maria Private Bin Organic Merlot 2013: This wine offers excellent value with notes of plums and cherries. Alc 13.5%, RRP $15
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2013: Ripe berries, plum and oak notes dominate this wine. Alc 13.5%, RRP $19
Church Road McDonald Series Merlot: Rich dark plums and berry fruit with savoury oak. Alc 13%,RRP $16
Merlot, especially from a hot vintage, can make full-bodied red wine with luscious dark plums and berry characters. Depending on the degree of oak influence, that gives flavours such as cedar, cinnamon and vanilla, you can put this style of wine with hearty meat casseroles, stews, or seared or grilled beef, lamb or venison. A big wine needs to balanced with strong flavours.
In her latest book New Zealand Wine Guide: An Introduction to the Wine Styles and Regions of New Zealand, Celia Hay, Director of the New Zealand School of Food and Wine and well-respected wine educator, explains in detail about new Zealand’s wine regions, significant grape varieties and wines produced.
RRP $49 from nzwinebook.com and selected retailers.
Wine and book deals
We've gathered great value New Zealand wines for sale, as well as package deals of wines with a copy of Celia Hay's New Zealand Wine Guide. You can order deals now from heraldwines.co.nz.