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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

Merlot from Down Under is underperforming at lower price points, according to Laura Jewell MW, Australian buyer for Sainsbury's. She told Harpers that having tasted more than 50 Merlots in the crucial 2.99-7.99 price bracket on a recent buying trip, she asked for only 17 to be sent for retasting in the UK, and will probably buy only three (Jacob's Creek, Hardy's VR and Lindemans Cawarra). The fantastic flavours that Merlot can produce just aren't there,' she said. All hit a brick wall of hardness. And it goes for all the big brands.' Jewell suggested four reasons for such disappointments with Merlot (one of the most popular single-varietal wines, often praised or pilloried - depending on your point of view - as the red Chardonnay'): the clones are not always suitable; most of the vines are still very young, with hardly any over three years old'; yields are too high; and winemakers don't seem to understand what it [Merlot] can do as a single-varietal. They don't seem to taste 3.99-4.99 Chilean and southern French Merlots. They can produce a bit of oomph at 7-8, but not really at lower price points.' On a more positive note, Jewell said that although recent accusations of Australian big brand blandness contain an element of truth, people are making efforts. They're pulling back on the oak, producing fresher, more elegant wines. And they're adding geographical interest too, broadening the range of their sources. We list a lot of 4.99 Australian Chardonnays, but they're all different.