Merlot around the world

A technical note: I decided to switch the language of the blog to English, because I have a few friends who expressed interest in it but do not speak Hungarian. I hope they will still find it interesting now that they can read it. Be warned: I have zero experience in writing about wine in English…. Also I will try to roll out a significant backlog of posts now, and then keep the blog updated regularly – we’ll see if I can.

So, back in January we had a tasting in our club where we chose New World Merlot as the topic, with the addition of two Hungarian ones as reference. Merlot is the second most widely planted variety all over the world, and we thought it will be interesting to check it out in a handful of different styles and climates.

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Bujdosó Sirály Merlot 2013: Hungary, southern side of lake Balaton. Its 2012 vintage was the perfect example of a cheap but well made red wine, which had some easily recognizable merlot characteristics, that’s why I chose it as a starting reference. Unfortunately the new 2013 one was not that good, it is a rather simple, lightweight drinking wine. Its smell is getting worse over time, the body is weak, although showing some nice fruityness. Overall we gave it a score of 9. (999 HUF, Aldi)

Brazilian Soul Merlot 2013: From Rio Grande do Sul, the southern fringes of Brazil, close to the Uruguayian border. It is a warm plateau, close to the Atlantic. A quite smoky scent, maybe reduced – the cabbage notes definitely intensified over the next hours, ruining the wine. Medium body with barrel vanilla and some dark chocolate. The taste is not as bad as the smell but we’d definitely not buy it again. 7 points, 2250 HUF, selection.hu

Montes Reserva Merlot 2012: A classic Chilean, from a well known modern vinery, grown on the mediterranean climate of Colchagua Valley (central Chile). Unfortunately ruined by TCA so even worse than the previous one. We didn’t even give scores. It is 2550 HUF at Bortársaság, might worth another try as the Montes wines are usually not bad.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo Mendoza Merlot 2012: We crossed the Andes, to Mendoza, which is more famous about its malbecs. It is a high altitude valley, with continental climate and beautiful scenery. This was the first good wine that evening, with darker purple colour and deep, leathery aromas in the nose. Medium-heavy body, you can taste the oak too but the picture is not dominated by it. Sour cherry and the playfulness I always attribute to merlot is definitely there, the alcohol and the tannins are a bit harsh at first but after a few hours on air it smoothens up and becomes even more harmonic. This is what we would expect from a decent merlot: 11 points, 2895 HUF, ifdt.eu

Yellow Tail Merlot 2011: Yellow Tail is probably the most well known Australian winery, especially in the lower price ranges. This wine might have been a bit old (based on the colour and the sweetness), but we liked it a lot nevertheless. Brownish colour, strong olive smell, lightweight body with a bit of sweetness and jam-like feeling. Lots of dried fruits: raisins, prunes. I would never guess it is a merlot, much more like a malaga though not really sweet. Overall we found it harmonic and interesting, so we gave it almost 14 points. 2900 HUF, selection.hu, good value for its price if you like this style.

Gere Villányi Merlot 2010: This is the other Hungarian, I threw it in as a surprise because I just ran into it right before the tasting. The Gere winery (located in Villány, maybe the warmest wine region of Hungary) normally does not produce a regular varietal merlot, but rather they use the grapes for the premium merlot called Solus, and some cuvées. But 2010 was a challenging vintage with lots of rain and many winemakers did not make their top wines – Gere Solus was not made in that year too. This merlot was released instead, and it made me curious. The wine did not shine freshly opened. It was very oaky, tannic and heavy, but not really harmonic and we also missed the fruits. An hour of decanting did not improve much, so we gave it a simple 10, and a half bottle remained for the next day. But this 24 hours in the opened bottle (just lightly corked back) made wonders. It became a silky, soft, harmonic wine, with a lot of cherries and nicely integrated barrel flavors. In this form we liked it better than the Yellow Tail, and decided to raise its score to 14 – with long decanting required, or maybe a little aging in the bottle before drinking. We decided to keep one for at least a year and see what happens. 2900 HUF, Auchan.

Tohu Hawkes Bay Merlot 2012: The world’s first Maori owned winery, a region in New Zealand where merlot is dominant. The wine is light colour, like a pinot, the scent is closed, faint. Tasted it’s also lightweight, bit sour and empty. Not a big deal, quite disappointing, 9 points overall. 5790 HUF, ifdt.eu

Ken Forrester KF Merlot 2012: From a smaller vinery in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town. Nice dark purple, but again a faint scent. Full, round body, almost heavy. Good tannins, coffee and cherry aromas, correct structure. Well balanced, although not very hedonistic wine. We liked it better after a few hours, and maybe it would shine with food. Overall we gave it a 12. 5970 HUF, Decanter

It was an interesting round, and despite we didn’t drink really exceptional wines, we enjoyed it very much after the first few. Some of these I would definitely buy again: the Portillo, the Yellow Tail, the Gere, and if price is not an issue then maybe the Ken Forrester.