It’s red wine season and wine writer Greg Landman has selected some of his favourite locally-produced Merlots.
Merlot is the most planted of all grapes in France, from where all things vinous emanate. Some believe that the grape got its name from merle, the Old French word for the blackbird that had a fondness for the fruit. Others believe that the name refers to the dark, almost black, colour of the grape on the vine. Nevertheless, it plays a prominent role in Bordeaux style blends all over the world, while also being delicious as a single varietal.
Locally it is the fourth most planted grape after Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz. It usually has a softer, more seductive flavour than Cabernet and some might describe as somewhat feminine. It has an increasing band of New World devotees, drawn to its plummy, cassis-like flavours and much talked about health benefits. While grown all over our country, some areas are better placed to produce Merlot which does not like scorching hot, dry weather.
To reveal its best characteristics, as is the case with all red wines, it should be served at the desired European room temperature of 16℃.
If you missed Greg’s list of Pinot Noirs for this season, you can find them over here.
16 of the best Merlot
Vondeling Petit Rouge 2017
If a wine could be called “perky’ this is it. Winemaker Matthew Copeland has produced a juicy bottle that’s full of flavour with that much vied for garnet colour. Some wood supports the fruit perfectly and there’s an intriguing hint of black pepper. It’s youthful and fun, and is just the perfect company at a braai. For R65 a bottle from Cybercellar, you simply can’t go wrong.
Protea Merlot 2018
It’s unusual to find a wine at this price point (R66 a bottle) with a wood component but there you have it. From those clever people at Anthonij Rupert in Franschhoek, this Merlot has lots of red fruit from the Darling area making it juicy and extremely drinkable. The eight months spent in oak is just enough time to support things. And the twist off cork is really convenient when you are in a hurry to get your hands on the darn wine.
Robertson Merlot 2018
From grapes planted in the cooler areas of Robertson – where it can get hot as hell – and then fermented in stainless steel tanks and matured in French oak barrels for four months, this is an example of careful winemaking which pays off beautifully. Both smooth and appealing without getting precious, this wine goes down a treat. You’ll find it at Makro for R69 a bottle.
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Van Loveren Merlot
What is always fascinating about the famous Four Cousins of Robertson is how, with a huge operation like theirs, they manage to make such good wines. Well this is definitely one of them. Matured on oak staves to give it that bit of wood push, this Merlot has delicious fruit that is dark, deep and interesting. It’s medium bodied, easy drinking and totally unintimidating, like an old friend. Enjoy for R70 a bottle.
Porcupine Ridge Merlot 2018
This is a fabulously super quaffer for budget conscious drinkers from the classic Franschhoek estate Boekenhoutskloof –count me in. This charmer is full of fruitcake pleasantness without being “jammy” in any way. It’s balanced, medium bodied and smooth as a baby’s bottom. In my humble opinion Porcupine Ridge have created a guilt-free pleasure to take one far from the angst of the day-to-day grind. Pick up a bottle for R75 from Cybercellar.
Balance Winemaker’s Selection Merlot
This is a deliciously aromatic Merlot with subtle black cherry flavours. It’s been aged on French oak staves adding another dimension to the fruit. Find it for R75 a bottle.
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Blue Owl Merlot 2017
From winemaker Van Zyl du Toit of Allée Bleueu who knows a thing or two about Merlot, Blue Owl is packed with plenty of dark red fruit that have a definite cassis nuances and some spice to lift it all. While being delicious on its own, this Merlot will benefit from being cooled for 20 minutes in the fridge. Pick up a bottle for R76 from wine.co.za.
Middelvlei Rooster Merlot 2018
This charmer can easily result in two bottles disappearing very quickly. There are silky, soft tannins with hints of chocolate but not enough to put you off and there’s some wood supporting all that fruit. It’ll be heaven at your next gathering around a braai and at R80 a bottle it won’t break the bank either.
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Neethlingshof Estate Merlot
The team at this iconic Stellenbosch estate under the guidance of cellar master De Wet Viljoen continue to show why they hold their place in the hierarchy so well. The estate’s Merlot is velvety smooth with some strawberries and vanilla on the nose – gorgeous. If you are thinking of keeping it– and I cannot imagine why – five years will be the outside limit. Pour yourself a glass for R105 a bottle.
Glenelly Glass Collection Merlot
Named after the magnificent glass collection at this beautiful Stellenbosch Estate, master winemaker Luke O’ Cuinneagain has created a bottle that has fabulous floral nuances on the nose with plenty of deep red fruit. The three weeks skin contact adds great colour to the wine, while the 12 months oak maturation gives plenty of gravitas. It’s an easy drinking, classic Merlot for R115 a bottle.
Diemersdal Merlot 2018
Diemersdal’s two-week post-fermentation maturation results in this most appealing deep, dark colour. It’s got a fragrant nose from 12 months in 225ℓ French oak barrels and there’s plenty of dried fruit tang. This rich and intense flavour cries out for roast venison. Enjoy a glass for R125 a bottle from Cybercellar.
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Glen Carlou Merlot 2018
With magnificent fruit from five different vineyards in the Simonsberg and Paarl regions, this Merlot’s free run juice matured for 12 months in French oak barrels making it an absolute knockout. You can find it for R129 a bottle from Cybercellar.
De Grendel Merlot 2017
Sporting a spectacular ruby colour with garnet edge, this bottle from De Grendel is a pleasure for the eye. It’s got a full aromatic nose with hints of plums and currants with plenty of grapes on the palate. Pop open a bottle for R150.
Groote Post Merlot 2016
This cracker from Lukas Wentzel proves that while they are no doubt different, Merlot wines can be successfully made all over – as long as you know what you are doing. It’s been aged in French oak barrels and its soft silky tannins support luscious dark fruit while the lively acidity keeps it very interesting. Find it for R150 a bottle.
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Steenberg Merlot 2016
Aged in multifill French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation for 15 months, this particular Merlot comes at a hefty price as a result (R185 a bottle). However, it’s all worth it to create a deliciously intense flavour that’s full bodied with a velvety texture. It’s a master of its own fate that should be consumed at leisure.
Oldenburg Vineyards Merlot 2015
From this beautifully situated estate in the Banghoek Valley comes one of the pricier Merlots I have added to this list. It’s got a deep, rich colour which promises intense dark fruit on the nose and it delivers in spades. WHile being round and fleshy in the mouth, it’s got a smooth long finish. A delicious treat at R195 a bottle.
Not a fan of red wine? Then how about a Chardonnay?
Disclaimer: Prices correct at the time of publishing. Some prices are per bottle price based on the purchase of six bottles.
Words Greg Landman
Photography Timur Saglambilek; Supplied
As the wine writer for Country Life magazine for the last 15 years, Greg has met and interviewed more than 150 of the country’s top wine makers. His articles offer unique insights into where to eat, what to drink, and where to go all over the Western Cape. With his dining companion Beryl Ormsby Browne, he has also reviewed more than 60 country restaurants for the magazine and has been a reviewer for the prestigious Eat Out Guide for 12 years. His passion for everything the winelands has to offer has led him into the world of wine tours. To find out more, visit his website Magic Grape Tours.