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Friday, 3 April 2020

Support Your Local Wine Merchant - Merlot vs Cab

A Merlot vs Cab taste-off from Cambridge Wine Merchants

With local wine merchants needing our support, there are worse things to do than a midweek virtual taste-off with friends.

A friend studying for the MW tasting paper needed some practice and asked a group of us to get hold of one Merlot and one Cabernet Sauvignon - any country, any price, any age - and join her online for a compare-and-contrast session.

There are, of course, many factors that influence the taste and feel of a wine; but the objective of this lesson was to exclude all the extraneous elements of terroir, age and winemaking quality to focus solely on the differences of grape variety.

In short, according to Jules the trainee MW:

- Cab is darker in the glass with darker fruits, and tends to be leaner and more austere.

- Merlot is plusher and slightly paler, with more red fruits.

My own rule-of-thumb is something I learnt from MW Richard Bampfield - Merlot is front palate (you feel the acidity on the tip of your tongue), whereas Cab is back palate (you feel the grip at the back of your tongue).

My Merlot was a Bordeaux, a Montagne-Saint-Emilion from a good-but-not great year. It is at a peak now, but needs extensive aeration to show its best.

The Cab, from Western Australia, shows well straight out of the bottle with plenty of fruit but also has the structure to age for years and decades.

Château Franc Baudron 2014, Montagne-Saint Emilion ( £11.52, Cambridge Wine Merchants) fresh, ripe, juicy plums and cherries with rubbed sage and spice; very fine, well-integrated tannins; savoury, mellow and harmonious. On first opening, the fruit is somewhat muted, but emerges the following day, so give this a few hours in the decanter.

Good - and good value.

Match with darker game, such as duck, guinea fowl or venison.

Robert Oatley Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017, Western Australia (£14, Cambridge Wine Merchants) minty blackcurrant and ripe, juicy dark fruits with spice, freshness and very fine tannins. Substantial, long and supple with minerality and good underpinnings.


Drinks nicely straight out of the bottle and will continue to improve for years.

Match with beef dishes, such as burgers, Bolognese or steak.

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