A large, climatically diverse country with incredibly diverse terrain, producing just about every wine style imaginable, Australia has a grand winemaking history and some of the oldest vines on the planet. Most regions are concentrated in the south of the country with those inland experiencing warm, dry conditions and those in coastal areas receiving tropical, maritime or Mediterranean weather patterns. Australia has for several decades been at the forefront of winemaking technology and has widely adopted the use of screwcaps, even for some premium and ultra-premium bottles. Thanks to the country’s relatively agreeable climate throughout and the openness of its people, experimentation is common and ongoing.
Shiraz is indeed Australia’s most celebrated and widely planted variety; Barossa Valley leads the way, producing exceptionally bold and supple versions. Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia's second most planted variety, can be blended with Shiraz but also shines on its own particularly in Coonawarra and Margaret River. Grenache and Mourvèdre are also popular, both on their own and alongside Shiraz in Rhône Blends. Chardonnay is common throughout the country and made in a wide range of styles. Sauvignon Blanc has recently surged in popularity to compete with New Zealand’s distinctive version and Semillon is often blended in Margaret River or shines on its own in the Hunter Valley. Riesling thrives in the cool-climate Clare and Eden Valleys. Sticky-sweet fortified wine Rutherglen is a beloved regional specialty of Victoria.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot can be made into a range of styles from everyday-drinking to world-renowned and age-worthy. Merlot is the dominant variety in the best wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol where it is blended with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. Merlot also frequently shines on its own, particularly from California’s Napa Valley.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.