Pinor Noir – so smart, so mysterious


Cabernet Merlot or Merlot Cabernet, depending on which there is more of in the blend, is a wine name that makes me yawn.

Not the wine itself but the title ‘Cabernet Merlot’. It sounds boring. 

Pinot Noir is fashionable, intellectual and mysterious but even the name itself feels good to say. You often hear people making the most of it, saying ‘pin-waar’, really emphasising its Frenchness.

Syrah and Shiraz are also sexy words and the names suit the vivacious wine that’s often big and fruity and sometimes spicy. I’ve heard them being wrongly combined to form either ‘Syraz’ or ‘Shirah’ as people try to figure out why the hell there are two names for the same grape. Another article I think. 

But Cabernet Merlot? Boring and beige. The wine equivalent of a tweed jacket with elbow patches. I repeat, not the wine itself but the name. 

The blend itself comes from Bordeaux where red wines are either Cabernet Sauvignon predominant or Merlot but always blended, usually with two or three other grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec. 

It’s a blend that provides extra insurance at harvest, with Merlot ripening earlier than Cabernet thus in cooler, wetter years, when Cabernet may struggle to ripen, you have Merlot to rely on. 

The two main areas for this wine style in New Zealand are Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island. They have similar climates and soil profiles to Bordeaux. Producers from these areas look to Bordeaux as the spiritual home for this wine style. The wines are nearly always aged in oak, each variety barrelled separately until the final blend is decided. 

Merlot brings softness, body, leathery tannins and black cherry flavours to the blend. Cabernet Sauvignon adds tannin, aromatics and blackcurrant, mint and cedar tones. They marry together beautifully, each filling out the palate and providing, when done well, a complete, full-bodied, long-lasting, red wine. 

I love the wines of Bordeaux but I can’t afford them. The next best option, worldwide, is New Zealand, especially from the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay. At a fraction of the cost you get all the pleasure of Bordeaux and in the best years can often out-perform the wine styles Mecca, Bordeaux. One of our truly great wine bargains. 

Hawkes Bay 2009 was a particularly good vintage. The wines are full coloured and ripe without being big and with a beguiling elegance only found in the best wines. 

Here are three to watch out for from the 2009 vintage. Alluviale Red Wine (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc), Mills Reef Reserve Cabernet Merlot and Newton Forrest Stony Corner (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec).  

Paul Tudgay is the Queens­town Resort College business hospitality manager and a wine appreciation lecturer