Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a copy of Nordic Light - offer ends 23 April 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

The Royal Mail Hotel is changing
28.03.2017

Executive chef Robin Wickens has a stronger influence at the Royal Mail Hotel's upcoming restaurant, slated to open later this year.

Adventuring along America's north-west rivers
28.03.2017

The rivers of America's north-west running through Washington state and Oregon form the arteries of epic landscapes and bold discovery routes. Emma Sloley follows in the wake of Lewis and Clark.

The World's Best sommeliers are coming to Australia
28.03.2017

For the first time, the world's top international sommeliers will take part in the World's 50 Best Awards too.

Seven Italian dishes that shaped fine dining in the 2000s
28.03.2017

Italian food in the restaurants of Australia blossomed into maturity in the new millennium, as the work of these trailblazers shows – dazzling and diverse, a successful balance between adaptation and tradition.

Steam ovens: a guide
27.03.2017

Billed as the faster, cleaner way to cook, are these on-trend ovens all they’re cracked up to be? We take a close look at their rising popularity, USP versus the traditional convection cooker and how each type rates in terms of form, function, and above all, flavour in this buyer’s guide.

Our chocolate issue is out now
27.03.2017

Our April issue is out now. In his editor's letter, Pat Nourse walks you through what to expect.

Roast pork with Nelly Robinson
27.03.2017

Nelly Robinson of Sydney's nel. restaurant talks us through his favourite roasting joints, tips for crisp roast potatoes and why, when it comes to pork, slow and steady always wins the race.

Water carafes
24.03.2017

More than mere vessels, these pieces bring a cool breeze of style from the fridge to the table.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Fast autumn dinners

Autumn weather signals the arrival of soups, broths, roasts and more hearty meals.

Roasted cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing and almonds

The cauliflower is roasted until it starts to caramelise, which adds extra depth of flavour to this winning salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

All Star Yum Cha

What happens the morning after the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards? We treat the chefs to a world-beating yum cha session, as Dani Valent discovers.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

Merlot redux

Single variety standouts (from left): 2014 Blue Poles reserve, 2013 oakridge, 2014 ruckus estate single vineyard, and 2015 norton summit by g. belton.

Single variety standouts (from left): 2014 Blue Poles reserve, 2013 oakridge, 2014 ruckus estate single vineyard, and 2015 norton summit by g. belton.

Long overlooked in favour of cabernet, Australian merlot looks set to enjoy its time in the sun, writes Max Allen.

"People told us we were mad to plant more merlot," says grape grower Colleen Miller of Ruckus Estate, a vineyard in Wrattonbully, just north of Coonawarra on South Australia's Limestone Coast. "But now winemakers come onto our block and taste the grapes and can't believe how good they are. And sommeliers taste the wine and they're blown away. They tell us they've never had an Australian merlot like it before. It's very exciting."

Ruckus Estate is just one of the vineyards helping to revive the fortunes of this overlooked grape. Merlot has fallen out of fashion over the past decade, but a growing number of producers, like David Bicknell of Oakridge in the Yarra Valley, refuse to lose faith in its quality.

"It's possibly the best variety we grow here on the vineyard around the winery," says Bicknell. "But it's a struggle to sell; merlot just isn't sexy. In good years like 2013 the merlot is every bit as good as the cabernet sauvignon here, which is why we bottle it separately. And we do okay with that wine at cellar door - when people taste it, they love it - but out there in retail and restaurants, there's no interest."

What's going on? Isn't merlot meant to be one of the classic grapes? After all, it's responsible for some of the world's most eye-wateringly expensive wines, such as Petrus. It's highly regarded in California and northern Italy. And in the hands of good makers in cooler regions such as the Yarra, Orange, the Tamar Valley and Coonawarra, merlot can - as David Bicknell points out - make wines that are every bit as good as cabernet.

The problem is that most of the merlot in Australia is planted in warmer regions, is cropped too heavily, picked too ripe and smothered in too much oak. And the resulting wines are flabby, jammy and vanillasweet. No wonder wine drinkers have lost interest.

"My perception of merlot used to be a wine with ripe, thick fruit, alcohol and wood," says winemaker Gareth Belton, now carrying a torch for the variety in the Adelaide Hills. "But merlot's actually quite a delicate variety: it doesn't have raging tannins, it can't handle too much new wood."

Belton sources merlot from two cool vineyards in the Hills: one at Basket Range and one high up at Norton Summit. He produces two wines with the fruit: one a merlot-petit verdot blend called Gnomes, and one a juicy, utterly delicious, single-vineyard straight merlot.

"There's strong red clay in the vineyard at Norton Summit," he says. "That's important for merlot, I think. We're not overcropping, we're picking a bit earlier. And people seem to be enjoying what we're doing; the Norton Summit wine was the first of my wines to sell out this year."

Low crops, a cooler site and clay soils are the key to the quality of the beautiful, perfumed Blue Poles Reserve Merlot, one of a few single-variety expressions of the grape in Margaret River worth tracking down.

"Merlot gets such a bad wrap here because it's seen as a second-rate variety after cabernet sauvignon," says Blue Poles' Mark Gifford. "In a region like Margaret River, where cabernet is so dominant, it can feel like merlot is the stepchild to a rich family. But if you keep the crops low and if you're cruel with irrigation - make the vines hunt in the clay for the water - then you can hopefully make good wine."

Another problem is clones . Most of the merlot planted in Australian vineyards is a clonal selection of vine material originally propagated in California, chosen for its ability to offer high yields rather than high quality. When they first planted their Ruckus Estate vineyard, Colleen Miller and her husband used this clone and found it difficult to produce quality grapes.

But at the end of last decade some new clones became available - selections from Bordeaux, Italy and Argentina. So when they decided to plant a "paddock up the back of the property on Rolls Royce soil with clay in among the limestone" at Ruckus Estate they chose these new clones, and from their first vintage in 2013 realised they'd made the right decision: the grapes developed finer, more complex flavours at lower ripeness, and made wine with a more savoury quality. Expect to see more interesting Australian merlots over the next few years as other growers explore these new options.

"It's been a tough road, convincing people to try a new $50 merlot," says Colleen Miller. "But we knew in our gut we had something special in the ground."

GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

How to cure a hangover, sommelier-style

Hungover? We asked the true booze professionals to share the...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×