Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Face-Off: Right Bank – Merlot Blends: 2007 Blue Poles Allouran, 2006 Alluviale Merlot Cabernet Franc, 2005 Chateau Corbin Montagne Saint Emilion
“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f#cking Merlot!”
This classic quote from the movie Sideways probably sums up the attitude of Red to Brown towards Merlot up until a couple of years ago. Given that we’d only been exposed really to entry level Australian and American Merlot, I’d say it was an understandable attitude. More recently, as we’ve had the opportunity to try some Merlot blends from Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay in NZ, we are starting to look at the variety quite differently. Of late we’ve even had a few Australian Merlots that have been impressive. As such we thought we’d put Australia, NZ, and France to the test in a Right Bank Face-Off.
Given the scarcity of Australian merlot blends we reckon we did pretty well in lining up 3 wines at similar price points and from similar vintages (both in terms of age and quality).
The Chateau Corbin was a wine I purchased in Paris for 15 Euro (about $A22) and is from the much hailed 2005 vintage in Bordeaux. Montagne Saint Emilion is a satellite district to the famed right bank commune Saint Emilion.
The Alluviale from Hawkes Bay in NZ costs $30 NZD ($A24) and 2006 is meant to be a good but not great vintage. We’d had the 2007 Alluviale previously, and it is a beautiful wine. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our hands on an ‘07 for the night, so the ’06 got the call-up.
The Blue Poles Allouran is $25 a bottle and is from the fantastic 2007 vintage in the Margaret River. Blue Poles is one of the relatively few wineries in Australia that produce Right Bank style, Merlot dominant blends.
All three wines from $20-$25 AUD and all from good to excellent vintages. We tasted them single blind, and then enjoyed them with some slow roasted Venison afterwards. So how did we go?
Wine 1 – 2006 Alluviale Merlot Cabernet Franc
Red: The wine was a vibrant crimson colour and reasonably transparent. The nose was fragrant, with red fruits, hints of cherry and plum, along with some more savoury notes. The palate was juicy, with some nice sweet fruit on the front palate before turning savoury with a hint of sourness through the finish. Some nice spice, good tannins and persistence of flavour. Decent length.
Brown: Aside from the notes above, I found a bit of inoffensive greenness on the palate, and a bit of mocha/chocolate on the back palate. A refined and elegant wine that had a very nice nose and good length.
Wine 2 – 2007 Blue Poles Allouran
Red: This had a deeper, purpler colour. A beautiful and interesting savoury nose. There was a hint of sweet, red fruit but the more prominent aroma was a lovely savoury smell which reminded of frying lightly salted mushrooms. The front of the palate is surprisingly sweet (in a good way) given the nose. It is mouth filling with nice drying tannins, and lovely hints of those savoury, mushroom flavours flowing through the long finish. A nice level of complexity to the wine and should age well. My favourite of the three.
Brown: To anyone reading this who does not like the smell or taste of mushrooms, rest easy – you will still love the 07 Allouran. Personally, I did not get the mushroom in a glass vibe from this wine (just kidding Red). Compared to the other wines, the Allouran was sweeter on the nose and palate, though only in a relative sense; this is a restrained wine and not jammy in any way. Given the blind tasting, and my relative inexperience with this blend, I assumed this could be the Bordeaux wine (cultural cringe kicking in?). Chalk that one down for experience – it was Australian and a clear favourite for me on the night.
Wine 3 – 2005 Chateau Corbin Montagne Saint Emililon
Red: A similar darker, purplish colour to the Allouran. The wine had an aromatic, sweet nose of berry fruit and oak. On the palate it was the lightest of the three wines, being also a bit dilute. It has some pleasant berry flavours and very light tannins. Ok length. A nice wine but my least favourite of the 3. Given its colour, and sweet nose of clean fruit and oak I confidently predicted that this was one of the New World wines! How wrong I was.
Brown: This is not a bad wine. However, like Dorothy finding out the Wizard of Oz was just an ordinary human, my naive wine tasting mind was (predictably?) brought back to earth with the knowledge that a true entry level Right Bank Bordeaux Red is not going to necessarily blow my socks off. Another lesson learned on the wine journey.
This was considerably more dilute than the previous wines. It had pleasant fruit on the palate, a bit of plumb and also a hint of vanilla. It finished with average intensity and was sweeter on the nose than in the mouth. If I picked this up for its French retail price, it would be a good wine. If I were to pay double the price as an imported wine I would not be happy.
Summary – A nice collection of wines and an interesting Face-Off. The Blue Poles was our favourite being the most enjoyable, complex, and cellar-worthy. It was also the only wine to provide a bit of Face-Off controversy, with Brown finding the nose to be more sweet-fruited compared to the others (while still acknowledging the savoury notes), while I thought the nose was predominantly savoury (while still acknowledging the sweet fruit). One interesting thing was how well all three wines performed as food wines. They all complemented the food and a wine like the Chateau Corbin gained extra appeal in this context.
In a Merlot blend Face-Off in which we pitted an Australian wine against a Hawkes Bay and a Bordeaux I wouldn’t have expected the Australian wine to show itself to be the most savoury and complex of the wines. A great achievement from Blue Poles, and hopefully more wineries in Australia follow their lead; firstly, by taking Merlot seriously, and secondly by blending Merlot with Cab Franc and Cab Sav as they do with the great wines of the Right Bank in Bordeaux.
Brown: All I have to add is that it is promising to try two new world wines based on Merlot that were superior to their equivalent French cousin. There is a long way to go, though the regions (Hawkes Bay) and wineries (Blue Poles) focusing on this style are already showing signs of success. An interesting and educational tasting. Thanks to Red for providing the slow roasted venison, which complemented the wine nicely.