Producer: Nugan Estate
Region/Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Country Hierarchy: Australia
Food Suggestion: Beef and Venison
Wine Style: Red – Rich and Intense
South Eastern Australia Wine
South-Eastern Australia is a Geographical Indication (GI) covering the entire southeastern third of Australia. This area’s western boundary stretches 1250 miles (2000 km) across the Australian continent, from the Pacific coast of Queensland to the Southern Ocean coast in South Australia. This vast viticultural “super zone” effectively encompasses every significant Australian wine region outside Western Australia.
Australian Flag and Vines ©Jonathan Reeve
Rainforest, mountain ranges, scrubland, desert and dried-up riverbeds occupy the majority land within the South Eastern Australia zone. It is only in cooler, coastal areas that vineyards play any significant role in the landscape. The GI covers the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania in their entirety, and also the southeastern halves of both Queensland and South Australia.
The sheer scale of this zone – and the diversity of its climates, topography and latitudes – makes it a GI (Geographical Indication) of rather limited meaning. Even the very largest AVA titles in the United States do not constitute even half of the area labeled as South Eastern Australia. This GI’s existence is the result of legal wrangling between the ever-expanding Australian wine industry and bureaucrats of the European Union, Australia’s most important consumer base. EU law states that, when labeled with the grape variety from which they are made, imported wines must also bear the name of an officially recognized geographical area of origin (a GI). As a significant proportion of Australian wine, particularly in the lower price brackets, is blended from wines made in multiple states, South Eastern Australia was created as an official labeling term.
Australia’s larger producers have been known to create a “South Eastern Australia” wine in order to blend away leftovers from their more location-specific ranges, or even to protect the name of a prestigious region after a poor vintage. This also helps wineries to maintain a more consistent style for a particular wine label or brand from year to year, regardless of vintage conditions. Subsequently, wines labeled as South Eastern Australia rarely display strong regional or varietal characteristics, and are purchased because of their lower price rather than any quality implied by the GI.
Most South-Eastern Australian wines are made from the widely known vinifera grape varieties, particularly those which already have an established reputation or following. Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc are the most likely ingredients of a South Eastern Australia white wine, with the reds generally consisting of Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is a red wine variety with strong historic ties to Bordeaux and the southwest of France. It is the predominant variety in most wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, the area in which the variety originated. The variety is now widely planted in wine regions across the world and, in terms of the volumes of wine produced internationally, it is rivaled only by its Bordeaux companion, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is an early maturing grape variety and can ripen fully even in slightly cooler climates. Its key drawback is that the early-developing flowers are more susceptible to frost damage in spring.
In France, Merlot is the most widely planted red wine variety of all, and it is also extremely popular in northern Italy and the warmer areas of southern Switzerland. The popularity of Merlot in the United States resulted in a significant increase in planting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly in California and Washington on the country’s west coast. However, while Merlot-based wines were the height of fashion then, popularity has since dropped significantly in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir in particular.
Chile, a country which has long been known as a source of good-value wine, has built its reputation mainly on its Merlot-based cuvees. The country has made good use of Merlot in both the high-production wines and some of its finer wines, particularly those from Apaltaand the wider Colchagua Valley.
The precise flavors that Merlot imparts to a wine are not easily grouped. It is a grape used for producing wines of a particular texture, rather than a particular taste, relying on organoleptic properties other than just flavor and aroma.
Smooth, rounded and “easy drinking” are common descriptions of Merlot wines. The main reason for this is that Merlot grapes are relatively large in relation to their pips and the thickness of the skins, in which tannins are found. For this reason, the variety is used to soften wines made from more tannic varieties. Chief among these is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot’s main blending partner in the Medoc and in wine regions around the world (see Cabernet – Merlot for more information on this blend). Other southwest French varieties like Tannat (in Cotes de Gascogne) and Malbec (in Cahors) benefit from Merlot’s calming presence.
Merlot is often dismissed as a reliable blending variety. It is often used to great effect in this capacity, and is responsible (alongside Cabernet Sauvignon) for some of the most famous wines in the world. However, it is also widely used to make varietal wines at all quality tiers, mostly in the New World. The most famous varietal Merlot wine is undoubtedly Petrus from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux – a highly collectable wine that can fetch several thousand dollars, depending on its vintage.
Investigations into the genetics of Merlot suggest that it is closely related to Cabernet Francand Cabernet Sauvignon, its Bordeaux blending partners. Carmenere, a historic member of the extended Bordeaux family is also a close relative, and has been mistaken as Merlot for many years in the vineyards of Chile. Worthy of mention here is “Caberlot”, reportedly a crossing of Merlot and another variety (possibly one of the Cabernets, whence the name), discovered by Italian agronomist Remigio Bordini. This almost mythical grape variety exists only in a small vineyard in Tuscany, where it is used to make Il Carniscale’s varietally labeled Il Caberlot wine.
Food matches for Merlot include:
- Osso bucco (braised veal shanks)
- Pork belly baked in miso
- Feijoada (Brazilian pork and black-bean stew)
(source: wine searcher)