At a recent family celebration, I opened a bottle of Grand Cru Classe wine bought in Saint Emilion back in 1979! It was a Tertre Daugay 1964 and to our great surprise, it was still a very sound wine with those wonderful characteristics of an aged Merlot.
Now you probably haven’t heard of this wine before but we bought it after tasting it and thought at the time it should age well. It is from one of the most ancient properties in St.Emilion located on the hillside near most of the Premiers Grands Crus Classes. The name is an old Gascon Term for ‘lookout hill’ and its position enables maximum ripening of the grapes.With Merlot, ripening is very important and choice of vineyard site equally so. I have often thought Merlot planted in cooler parts of Australia do not always ripen and give the wines a vegetative character – one that detracts from its quality and has created a wrong impression of Merlot. Because Merlot is an earlier ripener it has often been planted in cooler areas such as Coonawarra and Margaret River and used as a hedge against a poor late season for Cabernet and also to blend with Cabernet. However, the success of blending Shiraz with Cabernet has been one reason not so much Merlot has been planted in Australia.
The wines of St. Emilion have a generous body and warmth as well as an attractive, dark Garnet color and fragrance suggestive of truffles in their youth. They have a tannin content that ensures them a long life often up to forty years according to Gerard Debuigne, and this wine certainly lived up to that expectation.When planning our vineyard 25 years ago we decided on Merlot as a point of difference in part as we had lived in San Francisco and came to enjoy the softer Napa style of Merlot, although St Émilion wine Merlot blends were always favorites. We wondered how Merlot would manifest in the Hunter, as there was little planted here at the time. James Halliday in his 1979 book ‘The Hunter Valley’ notes 1869 Hectares of Shiraz, 453 Hectares of Cabernet, 16 Hectares of Pinot Noir and no mention of Merlot! He expected the great reds of the future to include Cabernet, Shiraz, with some Malbec and Petit Verdot.