Merlot – It’s a much maligned grape. In Australia, it rarely produces a wine of distinction, oft requiring the bolster of Cabernet & its Bordeaux blend cohorts to scale the vinous heights.(arguably due to poor clonal material – a friend tells a story of a well known winery with Cabernet Franc labelled as ‘Merlot’ due to confusion about the vineyards true genetic origins, apparently a common occurrence in Oz). Aside from a handful of one-off releases and random vintages, there is very few straight Australian Merlots I would happily recommend with any sort of regularity. (I have tasted a handful that are exceptions to this rule, but they tend to be by nature, odd exceptions).
Even our Kiwi friends utilise Merlot (particularly successfully in Hawkes Bay) in more of a ‘Merlot dominant blend’ capacity than a stand alone varietal. In California, Merlot has had more attention, yet will forever sit in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, with only Right Bank Bordeaux left as the varietal flag bearer.
However no one told the Irvine Family that. James Irvine is a vocal Merlot supporter, crediting his own love affair with the grape to an experience with Chateau Petrus some years ago (I’m still waiting for my own Petrus experience). As a result, the focus of the endeavours of the Irvine Family Winemakers is Merlot, with the eponymously named ‘Grand Merlot’ standing forth as a rather Grand interpretation of the style. Based in the Eden Valley, yet taking fruit from the Barossa, Eden Valley & Adelaide Hills districts.
Sadly the Grand Merlot wasn’t on for tasting, so it was left to experience a few of the other wines in the Irvine portfolio.
Irvine Meslier Brut NV An oddity, this is the one and only Meslier in Australia. Meslier is a French variety renowned for carrying its acidity in warm years (Great Meslier info here). It’s largely gone in Champagne, but Irvine still flies the flag. On the nose there is appley, lightly honeyed aromas with a hint of Muscat like richness. On the palate it is all tart green apples, in a rather fruity, slightly sweet and simple style. It’s rather fresh, fruity and not for me, but I can understand why it has commercial appeal. 15.0
Irvine Albarino 2008 An uber cool variety in the wine world, this Spanish grape, when its done well, makes for a lovely textural, yet grippy style that is rather food friendly. In this context it had nice fresh if subdued aromatics, with the palate the source of attention. Duly, this had quite a phenolic palate, with some grapefruity fruit and a dash of lemon, matched with firm acidity. It actually drinks ok, but the fruit definition (or lack of) leaves only the palate structure to carry it through. I can’t help but think how much more I would prefer to drink Eden Valley Riesling than this – especially from the fine 08 vintage. (Plus its stupidly expensive – $32!) 16
Irvine Merlot 2005 I like oak. It smells luxurious and warm and comforting. Its like the smell of leather, it just smells right. But I don’t like it to be noticeable, and I definitely don’t want to be able to taste it. This sadly is an oak monster, with lovely toasty, choc vanilla bean oak serving as the headline act, the backup dancers and the roadies. The palate itself is lovely and smooth, with a really attractive seamless flow of flavour on the palate, the Merlot living up to its plush reputation in this instance. Its very soft and quite luscious, but ultimately the taste of oak is so prominent that its difficult to drink even more than a little bit of this. 15.5/20
Irvine The Baroness Merlot Cab 2005 Normally this is my favourite of the range and this is no exception. The aromatics here have more spice, some black fruit and some more obvious varietal Cabernet (Sauvignon & Franc) that serve to define it more. The palate again is swamped with vanillan oak, but some welcome definition gives this a bit more than red fruit and oak to brag about. It’s quite drinkable, but could be so much better if the oak button hadn’t of been left on. Poor value again @$55. 17/20
Irvine Sparkling Merlot NV Hello varietal Merlot! This finally tasted like Merlot grapes, with some obvious aged material making its way into this blend, crafted in a quite soft style with reasonably high dosage (incidentally this was strangely served with a white cheesecake dessert which was like a wine/food matching train wreck). It had plummy, slightly stemmy Merlot fruit with some meaty development and a rich, soft palate. Quite drinkable and refreshing, if simple style. 16.5/20