Merlot is a fickle grape. If the wine is not from Pomerol or St. Emilion, it is a disappointment, most of the time. Merlot is a good blender with Cabernet, fleshing out the mid-palate, but on its own, it often lacks structure. A group of us got together to find out if there are excellent Merlot examples outside the famous Right Bank areas. And indeed, we found an outstanding wine, and several good examples.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
A Premium Merlot Tasting
The outstanding wine was the 2016 Henri Milan 'Le Jardin'. This wine comes from Provence, and the winemaker has the understated goal of achieving Petrus quality on this special plot of blue clay. The winery is biodynamic. Therefore, the beautiful perfume on the nose is perhaps no surprise. This is a complex wine with blackcurrant, truffle, dark chocolate and horse saddle flavours. The wine is quite tannic and has a huge amount of energy. Sadly, production is minuscule (96 points). He is on his way, I think.
The second wine was the 2010 Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Library Release. This is perhaps not an entirely fair inclusion, as this wine is only 67% Merlot, but still, Merlot dominates. Villa Maria produces wines of varying quality, this wine impressed.
This is a complex wine. Floral notes rise invitingly from the glass. The palate is very elegant and focussed. Herbal flavours reminded me of Italian origin. The wine is not underripe, in fact the core is sweet, and the tannins are silky (94 points).
The third wine is another small production wine. It is the 2015 Chateau Picoron. It comes from a right bank vineyard, if you will, which is situated 10-15km south-east of Saint-Emilion.
From a warm vintage, this is a powerhouse. It is a bit in your face and aggressive. Black and red cherry fruit dominates, and there are savoury notes as well. The tannins are high, as is the alcohol (15.2%). The structure is sound, and the finish long (91 points). I preferred the 2016, which was also tasted. It was similar in style, but gentler (92 points).
The last wine I would like to report on is the 2018 Hickinbotham The Revivalist Merlot. It comes from the cool northern part of McLaren Vale. In fact the Merlot is grown from the highest altitude plots of this outstanding vineyard.
The wine was not rated as highly as the last two, probably because of its strong fruit component on the palate. This wine makes a big statement. It is lush, but not just fruity. Mushroom flavours add to the very balanced mouthfeel (94 points). I liked it a lot, and a very experienced taster thought it was from Pomerol.
The Merlot grape is a very 'open' grape, which means it is influenced a lot by terroir. The 'Le Jardin' is grown on blue clay, and the Hickinbotham is also grown on very old silty loam and brown clay. I came to the conclusion that soil is a key factor for this variety, more so than for any other major grape variety.
A number of older Merlots (more than 10 years) were also presented at the tasting. They had lost their fruit and were over the hill. Another lesson: do not age Merlot for too long.