Spilling the claret: Australia’s best cabernet merlots

Posted on Jun 4, 2019

Best Australian cabernet merlot wines of 2018

Burgundy might be home to the world’s most expensive wines but Bordeaux packs the biggest punch when it comes to French reds.

The region’s blends comprising some or any of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot wear the wine world’s biggest labels including Chateaux Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Haut-Brion just to name a few.

Bordeaux’s blends – also known as clarets – are lauded not just for their aristocracy but for their longevity and complexity. And it is for the latter that critics are raving about the 2018 vintage. Despite a very warm, dry and late summer, critics who’ve surveyed the year’s output rave about “cashmere-like” textures with plush tannins underwriting a broad spectrum of ripe, black and blue fruits. Indeed, some are predicting 2018 could be a milestone vintage for the region.

In Australia, not so much. The local equivalent – known more prosaically as “cabernet merlot” – has typically been derided for years as an unexciting commercial wine. Several reasons probably contribute to that view.

The most influential is probably the dominance of single-varietal wine sales in Australia. Whereas French wines are typically known and sold by their regional appellations – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Champagne and so on – Australian wine buyers have become much more accustomed to buying wines by their constituent grape names.

This has led over time to a distinct preference for single varietals – such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz – and a converse aversion to blends. Winemakers have followed suit. While the best grapes are reserved for single-varietal labels, blends have become dumping grounds for leftovers. The blending process can compensate for some of the inferior fruit’s deficiencies but the resulting wines inevitably reflect their poorer origins and possibly reinforce consumers’ negative attitudes.

But change might be afoot. Cabernet merlot enjoyed a slight re-rating in 2018 with wine shows awarding the average cabernet merlot exhibit just less than 86 points – a low bronze – in 2018. This was a very slight improvement on the previous year albeit on a significantly lower number of exhibits.

New Zealand retained its position as the best producer of the style in this part of the world with an average two-point premium over Australian exhibits. Merlot flourishes in NZ’s more temperate climate but the superiority might also be explained by differing attitudes to blends. Whereas Australia’s super-premium wines are dominated by single-varietal labels like Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace – both shiraz – two Bordeaux blends are often named as NZ’s best red wines (Te Mata Coleraine and Stonyridge Larose).

Still, none of this has stopped more determined Australian winemakers from taking on the French at their game. And the best examples walk away from the Australian wine show circuit with enough gold medals to prove they’re up to the task. Here are the best 25 to buy right now:

1 Deep Woods “Estate” Cabernet Merlot 2016
2 Miles From Nowhere Cabernet Merlot 2017
3 Windance Cabernet Merlot 2017
4 Mandoon Cabernet Merlot 2016
5 Evans & Tate Redbrook Estate Cabernet Merlot 2016
6 Leconfield Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot 2016
7 Brookland Valley “Estate” Cabernet Merlot 2015
8 De Bortoli Sacred Hill Cabernet Merlot 2017
9 Watershed Senses Cabernet Merlot 2016
10 Amelia Park Trellis Cabernet Merlot 2017
11 Night Harvest Five Moons Cabernet Merlot 2016
12 Annie’s Lane Cabernet Merlot 2017
13 Ferngrove Leaping Lizard Cabernet Merlot 2017
14 Brookland Valley Verse 1 Cabernet Merlot 2016
15 Forester Lifestyle Cabernet Merlot 2016
16 Aldi Stores AC Byrne & Co Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2017
17 Harvey River Fishbone Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2017
18 Chapman Grove The Lone Quince 1925 Cabernet Merlot 2016
19 Nugan Cookoothama Cabernet Merlot 2015
20 Dee Vine 2 Monkeys Cabernet Merlot 2018
21 Paulett Polish Hill River Cabernet Merlot 2014
22 Nugan Estate Pty Ltd Cookoothama Darlington Point Cabernet Merlot 2015
23 Ferngrove White Label Cabernet Merlot 2017
23 Greenpiper Five Moons Cabernet Merlot 2016
25 Wyndham Bin 888 Cabernet Merlot 2017

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