there are some new reviews oozing though here, but we're not deckin em up all pretty til we work out an otherwise unborn style for this sleazy rube we call drankster


that's a George Grainger Aldridge cartoon ... obviously a pre-screwcap man

23 June 2009


Cullen Margaret River Mangan 2006
$45; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 94+++ points
Vanya Cullen. What a beauty. Plugging away like some great engine from the age of steam, having taken over from her wondrous mum (Diana, deceased), turning the whole joint bio-D, nose to the winestone. This whack in the head is merlot, petit verdot and malbec, in descending order of volume. I know she regards this a bit like the Cullen Beaujolais, but it’s as tight as a boiler on full speed. It deserves twenty years dungeon. (My plus signs indicate the quality potential with proper cellaring.) You wouldn’t understand my descriptors. (2.2.8)

King River Estate King Valley Reserve Merlot 2005
$45; 15% alcohol; Diam cork; 94+++ points
Well-grown, and intelligently made, merlot is much more rounded and accomplished red than neat cabernet sauvignon, even if it lacks some of the confectionery pretties that flash cab boasts. Merlot is more brooding, more thickset, and usually has more decaying moss in its tannins than the simple leafiness usually afforded by the gaunt cabernet. This stunning example has a whole fresh chocolate crême caramel quivering within its encircling earthy greens. It’s elegant, but has great authority and weight; it’s complex, but is already harmonising, if a tad reluctantly. Given a decade of dungeon, it’ll be a truly incredible, opulent, tantalising King among wines. 20 NOV 08

Mt. Bera 4.23 Adelaide Hills Reserve Merlot 2004
($19.50; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points)
Since G-Dubya or sumbuddy Stateside decided merlot was mellow - just as Europe’s now Yurp – it’s hardly bin laden with accolades. But this ain’t mellow, this merlot: seductive eau-de-cologne-mint sharply guards beautifully creamy and smooth cassis, Ribena and marshmallow, and then comes a gradual rise of slightly leafy, scrumptiously velvet tannin – an Old Yurpeen mix of opulence and elegance no Bush will ever twig. For $19.50!!! Lot-et-Garonne style veal, au pis.

Mountadam The Red High Eden 2006
$??; 14% alcohol; cork(!); 93+++ points
Made vaguely to the Bordeaux recipe of the 1800s, this is a blend of merlot (55%), cabernet sauvignon (32%), shiraz (10%) and cabernet franc (3%), aged in the best new French barrels. The wine is a triumph. Selected from the very best red parcels of the 40 separate vineyards on this magnificent 1000 ha upland estate, it’s a slender, intense, provocative wickedness. The wood’s still quite obvious, but over the next decade that amazing fruit will crawl all over it, then drown it. By which time it will have completed its preserving, perfuming role. Right now, it’s piquant and acidic, but with incredible silky, sensuous fruit growing over the long athletic bones that stretch all the way from that bouquet to the wine’s firm, tapering finish. It’s a pole vaulter. Give it many years: think St Emilion timeframes. Jeez. JAN 09

Jacques Lurton La Martinette Bordeaux Merlot 2007
$30; 12.5% alcohol; cork; 93++ points
This is not Petrus or Le Pin, but neither does it have quite so many zeroes after the dollar symbol. It's still bright, zappy Bordeaux merlot, swimming with fresh ripe fruits. But merlot has a vegetal soul, and that's here, too: there's a deeper aroma of stewing beets and turnip greens beneath the berries and plums. So it's complex, and not at all mellow. The palate's beautifully silky, with a polished sheen that hangs in until the lovely velvety tannins kick in, leaving the tip of the tongue dry and hungry, with a cloud of lovely fruits hovering in the hallowed halls of one's head. It's really good entertaining wine that'll cellar, but I love it now. Great with a good slow stew, with parsnip and turnip as much as potato; plenty of white pepper. Adelaideans should know it's $26 at The Edinburgh. 08 MAR 09

Jeanneret Clare Valley Hummer Merlot 2005
$40; 14.7% alcohol; glass stopper; 93++ points
Ben Jeanneret just keeps pullin’ em out of his hat! Merlot? In Clare? Riesling’s success in such a freaky, warm, dry place is unlikely enough, but merlot? Impossible. But then Brian Barry did it in the right years at Jud’s Hill. Now Ben’s done it. This wine’s full of suave, creamy fruit. It’s rich, and fleshy. Its mature tannins are just slightly velvety, and while that edge is part briar, part charcoal, it never intrudes, never seems too leafy, which happens easily with cabernet and merlot. It’s so comforting, plush, and sensuous that it accommodated a gentle creamy laksa. (19.1.8)

Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Yarra Valley Merlot 2007
$35; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93+ points
Cut out a slice of bitumen from the Bvde. St. Germain on a hot day, boil it in a missionary pot full of fresh bull’s blood with dark red roses and licorice root, stir in the contents of the sump of at least one Chamberlain tractor, dress it in a tutu, pour Gerlain’s l’Heure Bleue all over it, buy it a coffee at Deux Magots, light it up a Gauloise and drive past it in a Citroen DS23 and you’ve got this incredible cross-dressing brute of a Turdus merula. Which means blackbird, as the early-ripening merlot is the grape the singing feathered wretches eat first in Bordeaux. Smart. Peking duck.

Romney Park Adelaide Hills Merlot 2005
$25; 14.5% alcohol Diam cork; 93++ points
Real merlot’s freaky - it likes to keep its roots wet. So this vineyard’s as happy as a swine in the mire, on the banks of the Onkaparinga at Balhannah. It’s delightful, highly stylish wine, intense but sublimely elegant, with that heady, dark smell of Swamp myrtle, with its waxy leaves. Blackberry vines, too, with ripe fruit. Unless you’re used to Petrus or La Pin, forget everything you’ve heard about merlot: this strapping, highly appetising bargain IS NOT MELLOW. With enough fine tannin to ensure at least a decade’s dungeon, it’s utterly scrumptious now. Juicy cutlets and reduced spinach. Call 0439 398 366

The Wilson Vineyard Clare Valley Merlot 2004
($24.50; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points)
Elegant, yet steady and forceful as merlot should be, here’s one from the dry old piedmont soils east of the Clare hills, where the vanished Poles said the Kelly gang hid. Locals refer to Polish River. No river, either. It smells sharp and provocative, with gentle musk, coffee and chocolate, under wild, tight, hedgerow berries and fine oak. It tastes slender and savoury, more balanced leafy salad and virgin oil than fruit salad. Perfect for pink chops, rosemary, and parsnips. (28.10.6)

Jardim do Bomfim Adelaide Hills Merlot 2004
$24; 13.8% alcohol; screw cap; 92++ points
Nothing mellow about this rakish dude. The whiff’s all black tea, black cherry, prune, satsuma, dolmades and kalamata, with girlie cosmetic topnotes, but the macho merlot blackness below ensures nobody gives it a whistle. Its palate is saucy, dessert-like, and felicitous at first, yet it’s fearlessly staunch and bone dry at its base, with steely acidity and grainy tannins like Cherry Heering, lite. Grown on the Lloyd brothers’ sandy loam at Oakbank, and made by the inexplicable John Gilbert, it will age and bloom beautifully in the right dungeon. Juicy roast lamb with caramelised parsnips.

Domain Day Mt. Crawford One Serious Merlot 2005
$??; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 91++ points
This wine smells like a plate of hot bitumen with a great dollop of whipped cream on top. It’s dead serious king hell merlot. Nothing mellow about it. Keep the nose going, and you’ll get fruits: blackberry, mulberry, and prune, and baby beetroot. Turnip greens. Spinach. Irish moss – the seaweed; not the lolly, although either will do. Damp forest earth. Mushroom. Deadly nightshade. The flavours are pretty much along the same line. Surprisingly elegant, with an illusion of sweetness, but it’s not mellow. It’s terrific. Ten years in the cellar. Or baby goat cutlets.

Sevenhill Inigo Clare Valley Merlot 2006
$19; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 90+++ points
Merlot is one of the few wine grape varieties that like to have damp roots, so Clare seems hardly the place for it. Although, of course, Brian Barry's Jud's Hill vineyard occasionally produces fine merlot in the patch at its very bottom, which is damper and muddier than the rest of that sweeping valley. Some kilometres further south, however, there's not much damp ground at all, and that's where the Sevenhill vineyards lie in the schist, sandstone and quartzy podsols which produce that grand brand's lovely rieslings and wonders like this wine's exemplary cabernet brother, which you can read about in the cabernet section. This is good red wine, however. It's full of blackberry and olivine juices, and leafy tannins that remind me somehow of fresh basil. It's certainly not mellow, but it's velvety and smooth and quite satisfying, comforting drinking. The finish is racy and lithe, and makes the tongue whip around the mouth, savouring. It'd be scrorgeous with juicy pink rack of lamb, baked parsnips, and a mash of carrot, sweet potato and desiree potato, with fresh diced Spanish onion stirred in at the last minute, for some al dente crunch. As I totally misunderstood the cabernet when first released - it took four months to awake from its bottling shock - I acknowledge that this wine might well shock me into shaking out a few more points in another year. At this price, you can afford to stack a case away and wait to prove me right or wrong. I suspect I may have been really mean to it, but, you know, it's 45 degrees Centigrade outside, and there's a beautiful vineyard there about to spontaeneously combust. JAN 09

Chateau Tour de Mirambeau Rouge 2007
$20; 13.04% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 14-15 OCT 09; 88+++ points
Thibault d'Espagne made this crazily cheap delight using green farming, modern winemaking, a great deal of gastronomic nous, and a hearty disrespect for the stodgy thinking of the rest of Bordeaux. It's merlot (80%), with ten per cent each of cabernet sauvignon and my favourite scented darling, cabernet franc. The merlot supplies its earthy, moss and mushroom comfort; the cabernet gives the tannic spine, and the franc adds its pretty decorative perfume. The wine is sinuous yet plush, in a delicate yet determined manner, with the sort of compaction that deserves some breathing - the wine is much better on its second day with the cap off, so a decent glugging into a decanter will add a point or two to the score and the feeling that the wine should be twice this price. It'll be a true dusie with five years in the dungeon. Exclusive to Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice in Australia.

Tandem Ars In Vitro Navarra Merlot Tempranillo 2006
$15; 14% alcohol; cork; tasted 14 OCT 09; 87 points
Savoury, in the sense of chicory, rocket and peppery watercress, this little Spaniard is acrid, lithe, dense and black. It has the acetone reek of bootpolish from the tempranillo, and only a hint of the mossy soulful richness I expect of merlot. It's a racy, firm drink that needs grilled chilli sausage and little black olives. Exclusive to Vintage Cellars in Australia.

King River Estate King Valley Merlot 2006
$??; 14.2%; screw cap; tasted 23-24 Jun 09; 86 points
My dear old friend McScruples, back in the dim, grainy days when he actually admitted to having been married, would sometimes confess that he heard the wedding dress bursting at the seams as he walked down the aisle with his new wife. He reckoned she put on four stone between the altar and the door. Why do all these smart Australian premium winemakers think merlot should be picked at anything above 13 degrees Beaumé? This wine has more cellulite than Elvis.

Penley Estate Gryphon Coonawarra Merlot 2008
$20; 15% alcohol; screw cap; tasted 9-12MAY10; 81 points
As the early-ripening merlot is called merle after the blackbird, Turdus merulus, on account of it being the grape the blackbird eats first in Bordeaux, you can imagine what would happen if it ripened fast in a record Australian heatwave like 2008. It’s the grape that raisins first. You very quickly get jam. This is simple, jammy wine. The winemaker has mercifully avoided sophistry in the lumber yard: it would have been tempting to tweak the wine with more savoury, spicy oak. So at least it’s mellow, which might please some of our Stateside bibulants.
Dominique Portet Yarra Valley Merlot 2005
$??; 14.5%; screw cap; 78 points
This is a touch coarser and more overweight than what I have come to expect of yon Portet – too many drought vintages in a row? The New Heat? Very ripe squishy botrytis-affected prunes, really. None of the lovely tight lignins I expect of fair dink merlot. Rich, stewed, sorta mellow, like half the USA imagines merlot to be. Not my scene. JAN 09

Smith & Hooper Wrattonbully Merlot 2006
$17.95; 13.5% alcohol; ork(!); 78 points
The modern Wrattonbully grapeyards grew up around the original bush vines of the terra-rossa-and-limestone of the old Koppamurra Vineyard, north east of Coonawarra on the Victoria border. There ensued a battle royal when the newcomers wanted to be known as Koppamurra, too. At least the name they had to eventually accept had BULLY in it. And WRAT, come to mention it, which must be German for something. The TON in the middle is obviously a reference to the importance of hearty yields in such far-flung corners of the empire. Brian Croser calls his bit Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard, whalebone referring to the bone that lies in the marine sediments below; Tapanappa being a precise group of glittering micaceous schisty rocks hundreds of kilometres away in the Mount Lofty Ranges, which, just personally, I reckon’s a fairly broad-minded notion, like if you were talking geologically. (That’s got LOGIC in the middle.) This Smith & Hooper bit of the battlefield belongs to S. Smith & Son, known colloquially as Hill Smith, Rob, or Yalumba. It’s slender, leafy wine, smelling a bit like cold black tea or the chicory essence they used to make coffee go further after the Second World War. But there are blackcurrant fruit gums, too, and some chocolate topping syrup. The palate’s fairly thin and sinuous; the finish ferny and blithe. It tastes sorta Italian. It’s wine obviously grown and made to a price. Cleverly. 20 NOV 08

Deakin Estate Merlot 2006
$10; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 76 points
“Merlot is renowned for its voluptuous flavours and soft, supple textures…this wine has them in abundance”, says the back. Crap. Merlot smells like tar. Which is made from leaves. Top merlot smells like really expensive tar. This one’s like tar that somebody’s tried to dissolve in water, which is stupid. It’s neither soft nor supple, but it’s green and leafy, in a stewed leafy sort of way, with a layer of summit like glycerol to soften the natural methoxypyrazines. Merlot has them. But it’s never, ever naturally mellow. Some American air hostess invented that. She couldn’t pronounce merlot. Too bad.

Oxford Landing South Australia Merlot 2007
$9; 13.5% alcohol; screw cap; 67.2 points
This smells better than many commercial/industrial reds that cost more than twice this price. Yet it’s from the poor old Mallee sands. Jeez. But. “Vegetarian & vegan friendly” says the neck tag. Jeez. Me eat buffalo. “Well-drained sites” says the neck tag. Jeez. Merlot’s the only red I know that likes wet feet. It smells pretty good. Neither jammy nor leafy. But the palate? A bit dim. And short. And leafy. Which is about all you could expect from a $9 bottle. Two glasses of vodka neat, bring your own blackcurrant, add a dash of water if you must, and you’re up to $11.00. So do I have this instead? No.

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