Despite that famous line from the 2004 movie, Sideways “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking (expletive) Merlot!”, the style has long been the compromise for red wine drinkers seeking a softer but fruit driven style. It appeals to palates that find Shiraz and Cabernet too heavy, but desire more weight that a Rose or Pinot Noir.
I’m not sure if it was the bad press from Sideways, or just the structure of most Australian produced versions of the wine, but Merlot seems to have had a bit of a stigma attached to it in the eyes of the local consumer. Merlot is our third most planted red varietal in Australia but only accounts for a little over a quarter of the vineyard area covered by Shiraz. And most of our Merlot is blended with Cabernet or in a Bordeaux style with Petit Verdot, Malbec or Cabernet Franc.
So if you’re the funky or hipster type and enjoy the palate weight of a Merlot but want to hang with the cool kids and not be seen ordering a cringeworthy glass of the wine that Paul Giamatti’s wine snob character despises, there are alternatives. Like Beaujolais or Gamay.
The Beaujolais style hails from ten little villages in the well known French Cru Region where it is built on the Gamay grape. It’s typically light in colour, soft on the palate and with a ripeness to the fruit. Personally, I love the liveliness of the perfumed fruit that is seemingly unconstrained by bold tannins or the influence of substantial oak contact.
In Australia, Gamay is not widely planted but there are a few crackers on the Mornington Peninsula like those made at Eldridge Estate. From vineyards at Red Hill, David Lloyd focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (like most other vignerons on the region) but also makes a delicious “PTG” (a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay sold at $30 a bottle) and a straight Gamay ($40) which is widely regarded as being one of Australia’s best examples of the style. The Eldridge Gamay seems to do really well in the somewhat acidic loam soils of the Eldridge vineyards and the popularity of the wine is attested to by the fact that it sells out every year soon after it has been released. Eager consumers will have to buy en Primeur, where you pay now and wait up to a year for your wine to be released and delivered. The 2016 Gamay was released on the 17th of November this year and is only available in very limited quantities, so you might need to order quickly! According to David, it was “pretty, with blueberry, hints of raspberry and a little beetroot on the finish”. Personally, I thoughts the clash between the sweetness of the cherry characters and the savoury tobacco and brambly earthiness on the edges was enchanting. The nose carries scents of Ribena and blackcurrants, and they’re nuances that are detectable on the conclusion as well. A perfect partner for a charcuterie plate or lamb sausages.
If you’re not the patient type but enjoy a mid-weight style of red, look out for Beaujolais or Gamay in your local bottle shop. It is a style that is well suited to the Australian summer because it is best served slightly chilled and is generally lower in alcohol than the bolder Shiraz and Cabernet wines I typically pair with the burnt sausages and overdone steaks that I carelessly flip from my BBQ hotplate on a balmy Sunday afternoon!