Paarl wine region dominates South Africa’s first top 10 Merlot competition

Friday, 24 June, 2022
Hallo Merlot
Merlot wines from the Paarl led the way in this year’s inaugural Hallo Merlot Top 10 Competition.

Back left: Paul de Villiers of Landskroon, Philip van Staden of Dornier, Luca Bein of Bein Wine, Marinda Kruger of Elgin Vintners, Stander Maass of Anura, Kallie Fernhout of Delaire Graff. Front left: Matthew Copeland of Vondeling, Frank Meaker of Org de Rac, Flo Beukes of Groot Constantia, Johnnie Kalitz of Glen Carlou.

Merlot wines from the Paarl region led the way in this year’s inaugural Hallo Merlot Top 10 Competition committed to honouring South Africa’s best wines made from the country’s most popular grape cultivar. From the 10 top-scoring wines, four originated from Paarl wineries, followed by three from Stellenbosch, with Merlot producers in Elgin, the Swartland and Constantia making up the balance.

In the honours list of Merlot Top 10 accolades, Paarl was represented by the following wines: Glen Carlou Collection Merlot 2018, Anura Reserve Merlot 2020, Vondeling Barrel Selection Merlot 2019, and Landskroon Merlot 2020. Stellenbosch held three Top 10 spots thanks to Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve Merlot 2019, Bein Little Merlot 2019, and Dornier Merlot 2019.

Org de Rac Merlot 2019 (Swartland), Groot Constantia 2018 (Constantia), and Elgin Vintners 2019 completed the Top 10 list.

Hallo Merlot Top 10 Competition

Organised by the South African Merlot Forum, the first Hallo Merlot Top 10 Competition attracted 71 entries from wineries spread throughout the Cape.

Dawie Botha, chairman of the Merlot Forum and winemaker at Anthonij Rupert Wyne, said the results of the first Top 10 Merlot Competition underscored the overall commitment to quality by South African winemakers crafting Merlot, as well as the regional terroir-expression found in the producing of these wines.

“As the top-selling single varietal red wine in South Africa, the missing link in the country’s Merlot offerings has been the lack of a competition to assess the state of the wines made from this variety as well as to recognise the top producers,” says Botha.

“This inaugural Top 10 has done just that with 71 wines entered from all major Cape wine regions, showing diversity of terroir harnessed by a collective commitment to making excellent wines from this esteemed Bordeaux variety. With local wine drinkers buying more Merlot than any other single red variety, this competition aims to create an awareness of the high standard of winemaking and the specific regional identities found in the country’s Merlot offering. The popularity of Merlot is the result of wine lovers experiencing quality when they are enjoying this wine, and the competition also wishes to celebrate this fact.”

The Merlot grape has had a mercurial rise in popularity among Cape wine farmers over the past 40 years. In 1982 the country had a mere 81ha planted to Merlot which has increased to over 5 400ha today.

“Besides the increase in Merlot plantings over the past four decades, winemakers are seeing Merlot expressing the unique geographical identity of the South African wine landscape, giving the attractive drinkability of the variety a true fingerprint of Cape terroir,” says Botha.

The Merlot Top 10 was judged by Cathy van Zyl (MW), wine writer Malu Lambert, critic Spencer Fondaumiere, Tarryn Vincent from Reciprocal Wine Company, and Matthew Copeland, cellarmaster of Vondeling Wines, who also served as panel-convener.

Copeland says it was no surprise to see the Top 10 awards dominated by younger wines.

“The judges were unanimous that the more youthful wines showed freshness, elegance and polish,” he says. “Obviously terroir plays an important role, but astute winemaking and a focussed approach to expressing unique Cape nuances from the Merlot grape was a key feature of this year’s offering. South African Merlot is in a great place, a fact highlighted by this competition which, to my mind, is going to go from strength to strength.”

Hallo Merlot Top 10 winners

  1. Dornier Merlot 2019
  2. Elgin Vintners Merlot 2019
  3. Glen Carlou Collection Merlot 2018
  4. Anura Reserve Merlot 2020
  5. Bein Little Merlot 2019
  6. Vondeling Barrel Selection 2019
  7. Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve Merlot 2019
  8. Org de Rac Merlot 2019
  9. Landskroon Merlot 2020
  10. Groot Constantia Merlot 2018