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Geoff Merrill’s ‘no frills’ approach to tasting

“The moment you think you know all about wine, you’re kidding yourself,” was how Geoff Merrill of McLaren Vale in South Australia began our tutored tasting of his Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Shiraz and the famed Henley Shiraz covering vintages from 1995 – 2010 (2010 is yet to be released).

A no frills approach to talking about wine proved highly engaging and the perfect way to communicate his unwavering belief in the quality of his wines, underpinned by a depth of knowledge and industry experience in Australia and abroad.

Geoff keeps his Reserve wines back for a minimum of 7 years before release and the Henley Shiraz is released after 10 years. With a “backbone of acidity and pH”, the wines age well and of the wines tasted there was consistency in fresh acidity balanced by subtle well-integrated tannins. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a tapestry of savoury, floral and fruit flavours with the characteristic herbaceous and mint character of Coonawarra, and while the portions vary according to vintage, the blend is always fruit from Coonawarra and McLaren Vale.

In contrast, the Reserve Shiraz and Henley Shiraz fruit is sourced entirely from McLaren Vale and where the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon uses predominately new American oak, the Henley Shiraz is all French oak, lending sweet spice and smoke notes to the chocolate and rich fruit character of McLaren Vale.

Few tax breaks are afforded to the Australian winemaker who holds stock for ageing each year and in doing so Geoff stands among few in Australia who insist on holding back their wines until they are ready to drink.

Faced with potentially high tax bills for held stock, the majority of producers in Australia must opt for early release. The combination of wines released early and expensive real estate in Australia leave the consumer and restaurants with little if any space for cellaring wine. Consequently the dominant style of winemaking in Australia is a response to this situation, producing red wines that are rich in fruit and softer in tannins and acidity to facilitate consumption in youth.

While many consumers in Hong Kong are familiar with drinking older wines, particularly those from France, it is good to see Australia bringing a point of different to its export portfolio by expanding its offering of wines with longevity, style and complexity.

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