Merlot is one of the most planted premium grape varieties in the world, best known for being a component in Bordeaux blends. The Merlot grape is thought to be the result of a natural cross between Cabernet Franc and another unidentified grape, making it a sibling (or step-sibling) to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Regularly vinified together, Merlot has several advantages over Cabernet Sauvignon as it ripens earlier and more quickly, as well as providing slightly higher yields. The finished wine that Merlot produces is softer and rounder with gentle tannins that provides a contrast to the heavier more structured Cabernet Sauvignon. These characteristics have seen the grape being widely planted in both Old and New World countries.
Merlot is in fact the third most planted red variety in Australia behind Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, with 10 537 hectares under vine. Despite this popularity Merlot is yet to really find a definitive regional home in Australia, with most of the fruit being used to soften Cabernet Sauvignon. When used in a varietal wine the results have tended to produce soft and fruity wines designed to be drunk young.
The first Merlot vineyard was planted in the mid 70’s at Balgownie Estate on clay soils with alluvial gravel at Bendigo. As the vines matured the potential for Merlot grown in Bendigo became apparent and led to further plantings in 1997. The objective at Balgownie has always been not to make a Merlot in the typical soft, fruity, easy drinking style, but to make a bigger, richer, age worthy style that would demonstrate the capabilty of the variety and the potential of the vineyard site.
To produce our Estate Merlot it is crucial that all the elements come together in the vineyard. This is such a unique wine that it can only be produced in an outstanding vintage where the levels of sunlight, warmth and rainfall all conspire to produce flawless grapes. The yields in the vineyards are kept very low, around one tonne to the acre, to build flavour, complexity and intensity in the fruit. To retain these qualities, the fruit is hand picked before being transported immediately to the winery.
Once in the winery the fruit is destemmed and gently crushed to open fermenters where it slowly fermented over 21 days. During the fermentation process, traditional hand plunging techniques were used to maximise extraction from the skins. The finished wine was aged in a combination of new and old French barriques for 14 months before being bottled.
The new release of the 2015 Estate Merlot is faithful to our objective and is a rich and opulent wine with layers of complex flavours supporting an appaling and savoury palate with fine tannins. This a wine to enjoy with a good meal and good friends or it will comfortably cellar for 6 to 8 years.
Cellar Door Price $45 per bottle
Platinum Wine Club Members $33.75 per bottle
Wine Club Members $38.25 (as part of a dozen bottles)
I have posted before (Is Old Wine Better than Younger Wine?), about aging wine and the changes that wine goes through over time, and whether all wine will benefit from spending a period in the Cellar. If you enjoy aged wines and decide that you would like to cellar bottles yourself, there are a number of factors you must consider.
Patience is the first and most important consideration for any wine collector; there is no substitute for the time that wine spends in the cellar. There are many gadgets on sale that claim to speed up the aging process, but they often spoil the wine by making it look stewed or cooked. The only way to age wine successfully is with the necessary time...and the will power to allow the wine to mature.
Wine needs to be stored at a constant cool temperature, ideally between 10 and 15˚ Celsius. If the temperature is too hot the wine will mature too quickly, and there is the possibility that it will developed a cooked character. Conversely, storage at temperatures too cold will slow the maturation process. The temperature should be constant, as fluctuations can cause the cork to expand and contract which may result in oxygen ingress that will spoil the wine.
A good level of humidity, around 75% is also an important requirement for cellaring wine sealed with a cork. Without adequate humidity the cork can dry out, which will allow the ingress of oxygen and lead to the deterioration of the wine. This is the reason why long tern storage in a household refrigerator is not advised, as they tend to remove humidity and moisture. An excess amount of humidity on the other hand, will not really harm the wine, but can have detrimental effect on the labels.
The most problematic light comes in the form of UV radiation from the sun, which is why most of the wines that are designed for long term cellaring are found in dark brown or antique green bottles. Sunlight or excessive normal household light (such as in a commerical fridge) can speed up the aging process and ultimately spoil the wine.
Lay wine on its side. This is very important for wine that is sealed with a cork. Keeping the wine in contact with the cork will ensure that it remains moist and forms a good seal that will not let any air enter the bottle. Wines sealed with other closures, such as screw caps or vinoloks, do not need to lie down and can be stored upright
As well, do not disturb the bottle at all. Allowing it to lie untouched will allow the sediment to form naturally, which will eventually make the wine simpler and easier to decant when it is ready for drinking.
How long to Age?
The best way to answer is to buy a dozen bottles and then drink them over time – this way you can watch the wine as it develops and hopefully you will never be caught with wine that is too old to enjoy. Of course it is not always practical nor financially viable to buy so much wine and most of the time a bottle or two is all that will be cellared. In this case it is best to rely on the advice of wine producer or retailers. Both these sources tend to be very conservative when predicting the length of time to cellar a wine, as they would much prefer that the wine was drunk a little too young (and you can marvel at how youthful it looks) rather than drinking it too old when it may have lost a lot of interesting characters (and you will be disappointed).
Where to Cellar
Most wine lovers would like to have an underground cellar that was temperature stable and could hold their wine collection (I know I would). Sadly, however this is not always possible or practical. A good alternative is to invest in a dedicated wine storage unit; there a number of different brands available that vary considerably in capacity, price and quality.
However, if you are just starting your wine collection, then storing the wine in an appropriate environment in the home is the best place to start. Choose a cool area, not on an outside wall (that the sun may warm) and definitely not in the kitchen or the lounge room (generally the warmest places in the house). A spare bedroom or the bottom of the linen cupboard are ideal – dark, undisturbed and not prone to temperature changes.
Finally a word of warning – wine collections have a tendency to grow and proliferate, so don't underestimate the space you may eventually need.
Making a fortified shiraz takes time and patience; the wine needs to mature and develop the complex, aged aromas and flavours that are derived from long aging in oak barrels.
The warm climate in Australia is ideal for ripening grapes to produce fortified wines and much of the current Australian wine industry was built on their production. The incorporation of spirit into the wines initially occurred to act as a preservative and this enabled much of the wine produced in Australia to be exported to Great Britain during the last century,
While this cool weather persists, Balgownie’s Tawny Fortified Shiraz will keep you warm after a hearty, slow cooked dinner. Drink with a little farmhouse cheddar or dark chocolate; this rich and luscious wine has flavours of plum, raisins and Christmas cake. Made exclusively from Shiraz grapes, the wine has an average age of seven years and exhibits barrel aged complexity with intense fruit character and a long lingering finish.
Balgownie Estate is elated to have achieved a five-star rating in the 2018 James Halliday Wine Companion. We are especially pleased that 11 of our wines were rated 90 points or over, with the 2015 Centre Block (96 points) and 2014 Old Vine Shiraz (95 points) being stand outs. (Both these wines are due for release in the near future).
Here are all our ratings:
Join the Balgownie Estate Wine Club and be the first to find out when these fantastic wines are released.
"I’m a sucker for sparkling Shiraz and this is such a beauty. Sweet red and black berry fruit, vanilla oak and a seemingly endless choc berry flow. It’s a bolder, riper style of sparkling Shiraz (elegance isn’t the game here), but with pure hedonism, depth of flavour and real tannins. It does feel like a red with bubbles than a true sparkling Shiraz, but gee it’s delicious. Will likely be even better in a year or two when it settles down further, as it’s just a little too overt, too big, too sweet fruited for absolute smashability.
Best drinking: 2018-2028+. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 14.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Yes, yum."
Bonjour! For all those who love France and all things French, this ones for you.
To celebrate the most French day of the year Chef Travis will be dishing up a deluxe Bastille Day celebration in our barrel room at Bendigo with a six course degustation dinner with matching wines. Sounds magnifique right!?
As this is an exclusive dining experience, tickets are limited!
6 courses with matching wines $170
6 courses without matching wines $110
50% deposit is required upon booking
"It's been a while since I've looked at a Balgownie wine. It's been even longer since something from Bendigo has passed the lips. An impressive Shiraz without question. It's good to be back.
Dark plums, blackberry, cherry cola, deft cedary oak and fine spices.
Super soft in the mouth, it's hard not to be drawn in by its beauty. Each element just meshes together delivering a wine with poise and class. The finish is sustained and dangerously smooth. What a treasure.
Enjoy now or over the next ten years. 93/100"
Read Mike Bennie's reiew of out new release 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in the June/July 2017 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine.
“Born from vines that average almost 50 years of age, this is a big bold cabernet of deep concentration, lavish, palate-sticking tannins and ferrous, savoury character. It’s heady in perfume of blackcurrants, plums, gum leaf and blonde tobacco. The palate is an assertive thrust of choc-berry flavours, sweet earthiness and rib-sticking, tacky-textured tannins. It’s a wine of immense presence now, and should be tamed gradually with cellaring, to reveal more nuance and detail.”
Vintage 2017 is now officially complete, all the ferments are finished, the press has been cleaned for the final time and all the wine is now aging slowly in oak barrels or in tank. The 2017 vintage was a return to a more orderly and typical harvest with the consistent warm weather ripening the grapes in turn and allowing each to be hand harvested. This has been much to the relief of the winemaking staff after the very quick and compressed vintage last year where all the grapes ripened at the same time.
The warm summer temperature and the dry weather combined to produce ideal conditions to produce quality fruit almost across all varieties. 2017 is shaping up as a standout vintage likely to be on par with the outstanding 2002 wines. Tony is confident of being able to produce an Old Vine Shiraz from the exceptionally ripe and balanced fruit that was harvested. We should also have an outstanding Estate Shiraz,
The Cabernet Sauvignon harvested in Bendigo has been remarkable with the best quality fruit that we have seen in recent times. The Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley was also fabulous and was harvested in excellent condition at the optimal level of ripeness.
For our ever growing number of Sangiovese lovers, our new planting of the Brunello clone Sangiovese has been harvested for the first time. The Brunello clone originates from the town of Montalcino in Southern Tuscany where it is the single variety used in Brunello di Montaclino, - one of Italy’s noble and long-living wines. The addition of the Brunello clone will add more concentration and structure to our Sangiovese as well as meaning we have a little more wine available to sell.
The Estate Wines from both the Yarra Valley and Bendigo, as well as the Old Vine Shiraz are set to be outstanding when they are released - they will certainly be wines to savor or to cellar when they are released.