The Comeback Kid: Australia’s Top 25 merlots

Posted on May 9, 2019

Best Australian merlots of 2018

Merlot’s unloved image in Australia got a bit of a cuddle last year.

A mainstay of Australia’s red grape crush, merlot was the lowest ranked of any Australian wine show class bar moscato in 2017 with a medal strike rate of just 48 per cent.

But the grape could be in for a re-rating. Australian wine show judges marked up merlot exhibits by nearly half a point last year. The average merlot exhibit at an Australian show still scored less than the threshold for a bronze medal (85 points) but the trend was favourable nonetheless considering NZ wine show judges marked their own merlots down by almost a full point in the same year.

Merlot still has a lot of ground to make up. By way of comparison, Australian pinot noir exhibits typically attracted a full two-point advantage over their dowdy peers in 2018. Even chardonnay – a wine show class spanning thousands of entries of massively varying quality – typically scores nearly two points better. The average wine show score in 2017 was 86 points.

There are several reasons given for merlot’s underperformance in Australia. Most attribute poor clonal selection or climactic challenges for a grape that’s sensitive to both wet soils and high temperatures.

Perhaps it’s also because of merlot’s relative unimportance in Australia. The grape’s main claim to fame is as a companion grape to cabernet in the great Bordeaux blends of France. Merlot’s rounder, softer characteristics typically fill the hole in cabernet’s donut-like palate. That can be especially important in colder seasons that threaten cabernet’s need for lots of late-season sun.

But that’s not usually a problem in Australia’s warm climate where cabernet can reach its full potential without the need for blending. For all these reasons merlot fans are probably best advised to look across the Tasman where more temperate climes both suit the grape better and necessitate its presence in cabernet blends.

Kiwi judges rated their own merlots more than three points higher than Australian judges did local examples in 2018. However that was a significantly narrower gap than in 2017 when kiwi merlots were typically ranked judged to be 4.4 points better – almost a full medal class.

Wine show judges assessed 276 merlots in Australia and NZ last year. Here are the top 25:

1 Taylors Merlot 2017
2 Majella Merlot 2016
3 Leconfield Coonawarra Merlot 2017
4 George Wyndham Bin 999 Merlot 2017
5 Four Sisters Merlot 2016
6 Amberley Merlot 2017
7 Yellow Tail Reserve Merlot 2016
8 Richard Hamilton ‘Lot 148’ Merlot 2016
9 Tamburlaine Orange Reserve Merlot 2017
10 De Bortoli La Bossa Merlot 2017
11 Dee Vine “Estate Range” Merlot 2018
12 Dee Vine 2 Monkeys Merlot 2018
13 Bird in Hand Merlot 2016
14 Nannup Ridge Merlot 2015
15 Brown Brothers 18 Eighty Nine Merlot 2016
16 Artwine The Doghouse Merlot 2017
17 Blue Pyrenees Merlot 2015
18 Shaw Family Vintners Moonraker Merlot 2016
19 Smith & Hooper Merlot 2015
20 Kingston Merlot 2017
21 Mount Avoca Organic “Estate” Merlot 2017
22 Jacob’s Creek Classic Merlot 2017
23 Patritti Blewitt Springs Estate Merlot 2017
24 Aldi Stores Claire Creek Merlot 2017
25 Yellow Tail Merlot 2017

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