I am on record for describing Merlot as a bit of a weed. I mean, when you compare it to even Malbec, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc let alone the grandeur of Cabernet Sauvignon, it soon becomes apparent that this is a very difficult grape to produced high quality, premium iconic wines from. Which is why for many years I have said there were only three places in the world that should bottle single varietal Merlot: Bordeaux (specifically Pomerol and St Emilion), Tuscany (specifically Bolgheri) and California (more specifically the Napa Valley and Sonoma).
But every time I get comfortable in my mindset, a wine like this delicious Thelema Merlot comes along to challenge my perceptions. Normally a straight Thelema Merlot release will be produced only if the quality of the vintage does not merit the Reserve selection. Whether it is the use of the Clone 102 Merlot grown on Richter 99 rootstocks in Hutton and decomposed granite soils or perhaps the age of the vines, planted in 1988, this is certainly a Stellenbosch wine that often over performs. In 2019, no Merlot Reserve was produced due to severe weather fluctuations during bud break and flowering, followed by cool windy conditions which contributed to less and more uneven bunches with smaller berries and generally lower alcohol levels.
The grapes for this 2019 Merlot were gently de-stemmed, retaining as many whole berries as possible after which the fruit was transferred to its stainless-steel fermentation tank. The grapes were then inoculated with a commercial yeast which the estate feels helps the fermented wine develop a more beneficial flavour profile. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wines were aged for 18 months with a 25% new French oak portion. The wines were only racked once during this period before being prepared for bottling.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
2.8g/l RS | 5.4g/l TA | 3.55pH
Displaying an attractive medium deep ruby colour in the glass, the 2019 Thelema Merlot has an open and expressive aromatics with notes of bruleed coffee beans, piquant red berry fruits, red currant, red plum, dried mint leaf, sage and hints of Chinese five spice mixed with sweet cedar. There is a definite generosity of fruit on the palate with a plush, soft textured mouthfeel that boasts spicy, fleshy, chocolatey tannins, yet more red berry fruit characters and a notable balance that really shines the light on the harmonious elegance Merlot can attain. A delightful, characterful Merlot that will offer a lot of drinking pleasure to followers over the next 6 to 8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)