Mention the word ‘merlot’ and my mind drifts to some of the best wine regions of Bordeaux. First, the Médoc region, where cabernet sauvignon is king and merlot, with the help of malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot, is reduced to a support play. Think Château Latour, Château Margaux and Château Haut Brion. Then Saint Émilion, smaller than the Médoc, with merlot around 60%, cabernet franc 30% and cabernet sauvignon 10%. Think Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone. In neighbouring Pomerol, the dominant variety is merlot, with a little cabernet franc, a reflection of the region being further inland with a more continental climate. Two of the most important Châteaux here are Petrus and Le Pin. These produce arguably the most expensive, and maybe the best, wines in the world.
From there we return to Gippsland and the 2015 The Athelstan Merlot, released in late 2016 and disappearing rapidly from our stocks. This wine is widely regarded at the winery as one of the best merlots we have ever made.
For my part, I can only agree: in my opinion, our 2015 merlots are certainly the best merlots we have made. Mind you, they follow other illustrious wines. I was fortunate to try recently the 2004 The Athelstan Merlot, the only merlot selected in James Halliday’s Top 100 wines of 2007 with a rating of 95 points. The delicious part of the story is being able to relay how well that wine has aged since 2007. It was, and is, a beautiful example of balanced, flavourful, plummy, mature cool climate merlot. It remains a great credit to Harry Friend’s winemaking skills and Axel Friend’s vineyard management.
The 2015 The Athelstan Merlot is a creation of Axel’s, with Harry looking over his shoulder. Altogether another great example of how this much-maligned variety produces wines of sophistication, charm and elegance with a long life, yet enjoyable now. It surpasses the great 2004!
It is timely to also mention our 2015 Four Generations Merlot has also been released. Celebrating four generations of the Friend family’s association with the terroir of Narkoojee, first as a dairy farm for Harry’s father Athelstan and now through Harry, Axel and Axel’s sons Maxwell and Isaac.
The Four Generations is only made in suitably exceptional vintages – initially 2004, then 2009 and now 2015 – from selected parcels of fruit with a high level of new French oak. It is a sophisticated, balanced and noble wine with great structure and length and is only available in limited quantities. We suggest it is absolutely worthy of a place in your cellar, and can be enjoyed now but will handsomely repay further bottle age.
To complete our merlot story, we must also acknowledge our 2015 Cabernet Merlot which takes us full circle back to the concept of emulating the red wines of the Médoc in Bordeaux. The wine is a stylish and harmonious blend with fine oak tannins, elegantly rich fruit and a satisfying long textural finish.
These wines are available now for your purchase, but they won’t last long. In particular, stock of the first of these three to be released, The Athelstan Merlot, is nearly all gone.