All the medal-winning wines from The Global Merlot Masters 2023
While it may be used a lot in blending, to create a truly great wine from this grape takes great skill. Patrick Schmitt MW explains what it takes to create excellent expressions from Merlot.
Compared with other Global Wine Masters tastings by grape variety, Merlot was a relatively small competition.
While this did not limit our appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of wines made from this variety, it did say something about Merlot. The grape is widely planted and marketed, but it is also regularly derided, which has seen its role in fine wines reduced to a supporting one in so-called ‘Bordeaux blends’, rather than heralded as a single-varietal bottling.
Indeed, finding a pure Merlot is increasingly hard, not just, one suspects, because its reputation has been damaged by ubiquity – and by 2004 Hollywood movie Sideways – but also because the grape, famous among vignerons for ripening early, is suffering from warming climates, especially in places where it has historically performed best: Bordeaux, Tuscany and California. As a result, whereas once making a varietal Merlot was fashionable, today it’s more trendy to create a special wine from later-ripening Bordeaux grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, and even Carmenère. But there’s something else about Merlot that limits its extent as a varietal wine.
Although it is possible to craft outstanding wines from this grape, it’s hard to do so. A bit like Pinot Noir – which is much more famous for its pernickety nature – Merlot only seems to perform to its full potential in certain places and under expert management.
So, while Merlot may be planted widely, and associated with inexpensive wines, it’s actually a demanding grape that requires careful handling and specific terroirs. In other words, it’s really a difficult variety that’s expensive to grow. It likes cool, damp, clay soils in warm climate areas, a combination found most notably in Pomerol, the source of the world’s most collectible Merlot – Pétrus. Sadly, this wine didn’t feature in our competition, but other great Merlots did, proving that there are a range of places where this grape can reach greatness.
Such wines weren’t cheap, with all our top-scoring samples retailing for over £20, aside from Kenwood Discoveries Merlot, a brilliant-value find using fruit from Mendocino and Sonoma in California. Merlot is also a grape that responds well to barrel-ageing, with the soft, vanillin-flavours found in oak complementing the variety’s red fruit and firm tannins. Indeed, the best Merlots of the competition were wonderfully indulgent reds, with ripe red and dark fruits, from blackberry to cherry, along with notes of toast and chocolate, and a texture that was both juicy and rich, but chewy and refreshing too.
As for the sources of brilliance, in each case, these were special sites, with particular characteristics, and fully established vines, but the origins were surprisingly varied. Among these was Napa, as one might expect, but also New South Wales, Moldova, and Mendoza, along with Washington, Somontano in Spain, and Turkey’s Strandja Mountains. In those few cases where the wines failed to live up to expectations, it was primarily due to a combination of opposing characters: green fruit and warming alcohol. This was no doubt due to the grape’s sugars rising fast, and before the berry’s phenolics had ripened – a risk with early ripening Merlot in a hot climate.
Unoaked 100% Merlot
|Winery||Name of Wine||Region||Country||Vintage||Medal|
|Darwin Vineyards||Volandas||Central Valley||Chile||2021||Silver|
|Viña Concha y Toro||Frontera Merlot||Central Valley||Chile||2022||Silver|
|Viña Concha y Toro||Reservado Concha y Toro Merlot||Central Valley||Chile||2022||Bronze|
|Justamon||La Famille Lacasse||VDF||France||2021||Bronze|
|Mountain Ridge||Penitino||Western Cape||South Africa||2022||Bronze|
|Cramele Recas||Paparuda Merlot||Banat||Romania||2021||Bronze|
Oaked 100% Merlot
|Winery||Name of Wine||Region||Country||Vintage||Medal|
|De Bortoli Wines||Family Selection Merlot||Coonawarra/Riverina||Australia||2022||Bronze|
|De Bortoli Wines||Winemakers Selection Merlot||Heathcote/King Valley||Australia||2021||Bronze|
|Distell||Zonnebloem Merlot||Western Cape||South Africa||2020||Bronze|
|Darwin Vineyards||Lomas Carrera||Central Valley||Chile||2021||Bronze|
|Wakefield/Taylors Wines||Wakefield Estate Merlot||Clare Valley/Limestone Coast||Australia||2021||Silver|
|Cavit||Bottega Vinai Merlot||Trentino-Alto Adige||Italy||2019||Silver|
|Concha y Toro||Casillero del Diablo Merlot||Central Valley||Chile||2021||Silver|
|Distell||Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Merlot||Western Cape||South Africa||2020||Silver|
|Distell||Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve
The Lighthouse Merlot
|Western Cape||South Africa||2021||Bronze|
|ACW||Trisquel Series Merlot||Curicó Valley||Chile||2019||Silver|
|Share A Splash Wine Co||Cannonball Merlot||California||USA||2020||Silver|
|Bodegas Bianchi||Bianchi Particular||San Rafael||Argentina||2020||Gold|
|Napa Cellars||Merlot||Napa Valley||USA||2019||Silver|
|Chateau Ste. Michelle||Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot||Washington||United States||2018||Gold|
|Chamlija||Asticus Mons Merlot||Strandja Mountains||Turkey||2019||Silver|
|Et Cetera||Merlot||Stefan Voda||Moldova||2014||Silver|
|Bodega Puerta del Abra||Insólito Merlot||Balcarce||Argentina||2018||Silver|
|Winery||Name of Wine||Country||Region||Vintage||Medal|
|Kenwood Vineyards||Discoveries Merlot||California||USA||2019||Gold|
|Distell||Nederburg Winemasters Merlot||Western Cape||South Africa||2021||Silver|
|Viña Luis Felipe Edwards||LFE Reserva||Colchagua Valley||Chile||2021||Bronze|
|Concha y Toro Winery||Casillero del Diablo Reserva Especial Merlot||Maule Valley||Chile||2021||Silver|
|Viña Luis Felipe Edwards||LFE Gran Reserva||Colchagua Valley||Chile||2021||Bronze|
|Kenwood Vineyards||Jack London Vineyard Red Blend||Sonoma Mountain||USA||2018||Master|
|Kenwood Vineyards||Rugged Elements Estate Merlot||Sonoma Valley||USA||2019||Silver|
|Trefethen Family Vineyards||Merlot||Napa Valley||USA||2019||Gold|
|Viñedos Puertas||Puertas Icon Wine||Curicó Valley||Chile||2017||Gold|
|Hoosegg||Mountain Dragon Merlot||Orange||Australia||2018||Master|
About the competition
With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Merlot Masters provides a chance for your wines to star. The 2023 competition was judged on 2 February at 28-50 Chelsea, London, employing experienced judges.
The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Merlot Master. This report features the medal winners only. Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: firstname.lastname@example.org