Merlot makes a ‘fashionable impression’

WINE may not appear as glamorous as some Ascot Spring Carnival beauties when fashions of the field are paraded, but it’s true that the product of the vine does run in tune to fashion.

The 60s was the decade of the discovery of red table wines, the 70s were the riesling years, the 80s was when chardonnay entered the fashion stakes and in the 90s the style was set by sauvignon blanc and semillon “classic” blends.

But quietly, almost shyly, a red varietal (a wine made of a single variety) is making a fashionable impression on many people - merlot (pronounced Mair-lo`, unless you are Italian and then you add the ‘t’).

Merlot has always been a support wine. It is embraced in Bordeaux, revered for its soft, perfumed characters.

This red wine is used for blending with cabernet sauvignon to make great reds in the Merdoc district.

To the east, in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol regions, it is the dominant variety.

I reckon merlot fills the early palate potholes of cabernet sauvignon by softening the intense astringency of the cabernet.

Straight merlot reds are generally a little rouge. Inbuilt softness is always in place no- matter where it is grown and the tender fragrances are always there.

They can be medium to full bodied in weight, but always fairly single dimensional – uncomplicated drinking.

Brown Brothers has produced its 1998 merlot and it has the character to beckon fans of the variety. One of the major attractions is the affordable price structure at just more than $18.

Brown Brothers has cleverly used its vineyard options. The bulk of the merlot was grown at the foothills of the Victorian alps where climate would encourage the softness, with the remaining 30 per cent coming from their mountain top Whitlands vineyard, 800 metres above sea level.

These grapes no doubt add to the elegance of the wine.

Thankfully, the winemakers have given some clever oak treatment to this merlot, which adds charm to the red. I’m not inclined to suggest you cellar this wine at all, it’s one to be enjoyed young and because it is a merlot, it already has a velvet finish.

There are no harsh tannins because the oak storage has left a subtle sweetness.

* * *

IT BRINGS back memories of Waldeck Wines legendary sparkling wine called Skip and Go Naked, a bottle of bubbles that turned conservative heads way back in the 70s.

Today, another Swan Valley winery has bottled a dry white with an oddball title. The blunt vigneron at Swan Brook Estate, John Andreous, has released the white wine boldly called “Mates Rate”.

Basically, the wine is a Chenin Blanc and would easily slot into the quaffing category.

Unlike many of those whites made of this delightful grape variety, the wine has been made dry with about 4.5 grams of natural grape sugar present.

The gregarious wine man bottled Mates Rate in clear bottles, then using the new cork look-a-like plastic seals, has corked the wine in a rainbow of multi-colours.

Looking into a case of the white, the colours have a ladies make up kit appeal.

The fruit will develop in the bottle further so I suggest you cellar Mates Rate in the fridge for no more than 24 hours. You will pay around $9.99.

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