Meerlust Merlot 2005

Trawling through my regular wine-buying websites the other day to see what bargains there
Posted 25th January 2011        

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Trawling through my regular wine-buying websites the other day to see what bargains there were to be had, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw this wine advertised on special offer with Majestic at £15.99 per bottle.

Not only is this a very good price for one of South Africa’s best producers of Merlot but in all probability it’s cheaper than what you’d pay for a bottle in South Africa itself. Unsurprisingly when I rang up my local branch to enquire if they had any in stock they didn’t and it prompted a nation-wide search for some. Luckily for me, the guys in the Reigate store came up trumps and found me 6 bottles which I snapped up straight away.

Meerlust is one of South Africa’s most prestigious, high-profile and therefore well-known wine estates. Founded in 1693 the land was granted by the then Cape Governor, Simon van der Stel, to Henning Husing who gave the farm its name, which literally means “sea pleasure”, and alludes to the sea breezes that blow inland from False Bay and predominantly influence the local microclimate.

Bought by Johannes Myburgh in 1757, the farm is still in the hands of the same family and is owned by Hannes Myburgh, eighth generation of the Myburgh Dynasty. The estate is a National Monument with its Cape Dutch architecture Manor House, classic wine cellar, family cemetary and dovecote all being national treasures. Just south of Stellenbosch, the estate is planted with a majority of red varietals – apart from Merlot there is also Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – with a smaller portion of area devoted to Chardonnay. It is open to the public with tours of the Manor House and other parts of the state by appointment only but I would recommend anyone visiting the Cape Winelands to spend at least a few hours here.

This wine is made in an old-world, slightly restrained bordelais style that harmoniously matches new-world fruit with the subtle undertones of earthiness and finesse that come from the terroir. In my opinion it is more than a match for any Grand Cru from the Medoc as it delivers the same quality as you’d expect from this region but with enough of a new-world twist so as not to be a clone. The grapes for this wine come from 24 year-old vines – relatively old in the South African wine industry. Picked by hand, the grapes are crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks using the partial, uninoculated method which utilises the natural, wild yeasts found on the fruit. A portion of the juice is then left in contact with the skins for 5 weeks for extra colour and character before fermentation in 300l French oak casks. Actually a blend of 90% Merlot and 10%  Cabernet Franc for structure, the wine is matured for 17 months in second-fill Nevers barrels before bottling.

It’s a good idea to leave the bottle open for 5-10 minutes or so after opening to allow the wine to breathe a bit. Once in the glass, it is a deep, purple colour typical of merlot with a ruby-red rim. On the nose there are the standard plummy, mulberry aromas with a hint of cigar box spice (from the cabernet franc), ink and dark chocolate. The wine is full and generous, ripe and fruity on the palate with a good balance of acidity, structured but silky and meaty tannins with pronounced length including a bit of finely tuned earthy mustiness and minerality. It is full of finesse rather than flamboyance and reminds me very much of a St.Estephe as not only does it have that slight earthy undertone but is a bit more dense and structured than any of the other Medoc wines. Consequently it can be laid down for as long as 20 years and will improve in the right conditions.

This is a really special wine and should be served with food ideally. All types of red meat and game as well as hard, strong cheeses are good matches – strong flavours are the guide here so the wine does not eclipse any of them.

This wine scores 4.5 out of 5 in the 2009 Platter guide so I will also give it 95 out 100.

Available at time of publication from Majestic at £15.99 per bottle – I may have bought the last 6 though!

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Meet the Author:
Donald Griffiths
Donald lives in Tadworth, Surrey and is originally from Durban in South Africa. He developed an appreciation for wine at a relatively young age mainly in thanks to his francophile mother who served it (just one glass mind!) with food around the dining table and taught him to appreciate, enjoy and acknowledge its ability to complement and even enhance good food. This appreciation grew stronger in his early twenties when he met like-minded buyers and drinkers of wine while working behind a bar as a student and also realised that a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon was a better pairing with barbecued red meat than any beer could ever be. Now all he pretty much drinks is wine – of all colours and styles – and enjoys collecting wines he likes to drink. Favourites include (but are not restricted to!) New World Pinot Noirs, most red Rhone varietals, the deeply dark and tannic wines from South-West France, big, creamy, oaked and over-the-top Chardonnays and the sweet white wines of Monbazillac and Sauternes. Donald prides himself on a relatively in-depth knowledge of the South African wine industry. He has visited many of the top wine estates in the Cape and will gladly try and convert the most sceptic, ignorant and staunchest critics of SA wine. If he won the lottery Donald freely admits he would buy a wine estate somewhere in the world and grow old in no great rush while getting his feet wet with grape juice.