What’s in a “vintage”?

verriere-374-01“Vintage” is a word we use commonly, but do you know what the word actually means for wine? Vintage refers to the harvest period when the grapes are ripe and can be picked – typically this happens in September and October in the northern hemisphere (France, Spain etc), and February and March in the southern hemisphere (Australia, Argentina etc). As we head into the Australian and New Zealand vintage period (a frantic time for winemakers!) we’ll bring you updates from around those regions – it’s a great way to get a feel for how the wines of different years will start their life. As a rule, white grapes (for white wine) are picked first, which locks in those lovely fresh, crisp flavours. A few weeks later and it will be the turn of the red grapes (for red wine) to be picked. This gives the red grapes longer in the warm summer and autumn days to ripen fully and develop rich and generous characters that are so important in the finished wine. The time of harvest also varies from one region to another across the country – generally the hottest regions will be picked first, as the grapes ripen more quickly, while the cooler regions will take a few weeks more to get to the perfect ripeness.

Once the wine has been made from the grapes picked during that vintage/harvest, the wine can be labelled with the year – so for grapes picked in March 2015 in Australia, the wines can be labelled ‘2015’. It doesn’t matter when the wine was blended, bottled or shipped to the store – if a year is shown on the label it only relates to when the grapes were actually harvested. Some wines, especially sparkling wines from Champagne, might be labelled ‘non-vintage’ or ‘NV’ – this is because they are made up of wines from a number of different years, rather than a single year. Why? Traditionally regions like Champagne can experience quite different weather and conditions each harvest, which results in wines with different flavours and characters each year. So to produce a consistent wine each year (in a ‘house style’), the winemakers have become very skilled at blending wines from across different harvests to even out these annual differences.

At Merchants however we are a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand. As such, the wines we sell sometimes show some slight variation in style from one year (or vintage) to the next, and we think this is a unique part of their story. Great wines talk about the soil and the climate they are grown in, as well as the skill of the families making the wines. Its also worth noting that during the year we will sell out of certain wines – some of our wines are (lovingly) made in tiny quantities, so its worth putting a few of your favourites in the cellar when they are available. Both these things are what we love about artisan winemaking – its easy to become used to big brand wines being available all year round and tasting the same every vintage, but we celebrate the different story behind each vintage and are excited every year as the new wines are released.

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Raising a glass to International Women’s Day 2016

womenwineTo commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th 2016, we thought we’d look at the role of women in wine. It’s a popular belief that the wine industry is dominated my grey haired men – but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Last year saw the inaugural Australian ‘Women in Wine’ event, a competition to celebrate women in all areas of the wine industry. The shortlist of finalists included some of Australia’s most innovative and creative talent – a great reflection on the role of women in today’s wine industry.

Another Australian organisation celebrating women in wine is the ‘Fabulous Ladies Wine Society’ – a vibrant community across Australia to encourage more women to be involved in all aspects of wine from the grape to the glass, which hosts regular events. ArtWine Estate – one of Merchants founding wineries – is hosting an event with the FLWS in May this year at their stunning cellar door in the Adelaide Hills. (click here for more details).

One of the key tools in making and enjoying wine is a good sense of smell and taste. In the wine industry it’s a long held belief that women have a more acute sense of smell and taste, and there certainly seems to be good science behind this (click here to read more). As many women will know, during pregnancy the sense of smell in particular can become exceptionally sensitive (we know drinking wine during pregnancy is not recommended, but try smelling one of your favourite wines during this time and see how much more aromatic it seems!).

Another aspect of the wine industry that is vital to making great wines is attention to detail. Every wine is the result of hundreds of small steps, many seemingly insignificant at the time, but all having their own impact on the final wine. From personal experience, most women winemakers are much, much better at managing this level of detail than the majority of their male counterparts!

And its not only in the 21st century where women have had such a major impact on the wine industry. In the 19th century many of the driving forces behind today’s leading Champagne houses in France were women. Many women were left as widows as war ravaged Europe, and names such as Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot and Louise Pommery have become legendary in the world of fine wines for both their technical and business acumen (click here for more information).

So join us at Merchants as we raise a glass to celebrate all the women involved in wine around the world on International Women’s Day.

Chocolate and wine – a most romantic Valentine’s Day at Merchants Wine Store

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A selection of chocolates from Leela’s Fine Chocolate range

To celebrate Valentine’s Day at our East Coast branch of Merchants this year we hosted a wine and chocolate pairing workshop with Leela Titus from Leela’s Fine Chocolates (read more about Leela here). It was a great opportunity to bring together some of our artisanal wines with a selection of hand crafted chocolates, and the results were very interesting (and tasty!).

The similarities between chocolate and wine are striking. Both require specific climates to grow the key ingredients (e.g. grapes and cocoa beans) successfully, and the flavours in the final product are heavily influenced by the region that they are grown in. Also neither are naturally occurring products – both require human intervention to make the final product – and for both the skills to create the finest wines and chocolates have taken centuries to perfect!

For the chemistry-geek, there is a whole raft of flavour, aroma and tannin compounds that are shared between the two, and there is ongoing research into the health benefits of many of these compounds in both wine and chocolate. Whatever your favourite wine or chocolate, both lend themselves to a range of styles – think subtle white chocolate all the way through to high cocoa bitter dark chocolate, and light crisp white wines through to rich reds and warming fortified wines.

One final similarity is that today we take intensely flavoured food and drink like chocolate and wine for granted, often eating or drinking without a second thought. And this is where we miss the real pleasure and true enjoyment of these complex, fascinating indulgences. Sitting down for a couple of hours to taste wine and chocolate is not only a great way to spend an afternoon, but also an opportunity to take some time to really savour the flavours of both, to unwind and enjoy without rushing. A single square of really good chocolate, or a sip of a wine that has been lovingly made can transport you to other parts of the world, or to other times of your life. The simple pleasure of letting flavours linger on your tongue and letting your mind wander is one many of us have forgotten about, so its great to reconnect with our inner self.

Returning to our event with Leela, and one of the highlights was to try some unusual flavour combinations in the chocolates themselves. Leela explained how she is inspired by fresh flavours, and recently she has created a dark chocolate with fresh basil, as well as a rosemary and olive oil chocolate. These were a revelation as the savoury notes from the basil and rosemary highlight a very different spectrum of flavours in the chocolate itself. The final chocolate of the line-up was the most anticipated of the afternoon – a dark chocolate shell filled with crispy bacon bits and gooey salt caramel. If you are wondering, it really was as amazing as it sounds! The smoky bacon flavours really lifted the dark chocolate, and the sweet salty combination of bacon, caramel and chocolate just kept evolving on the tongue after tasting.

Pairing wines with chocolate can be difficult though. The sweetness in many chocolates can make wines look sour or bitter, and the bitterness in some dark chocolates can make fuller bodied red wines look even more bitter as well. So how best to enjoy two of our favourite foods together? The key is to look for sweeter styles of wines which can match the sweetness of the chocolate, or offset any bitterness in the chocolate. Finally, for those not fortunate enough to join us for the tasting, the table below shows our favourite pairings (click on the wines to order from the Merchants online store).

Chocolate Wine
White chocolate, Dulcey chocolate Kies Family Wines Sparkling Heysen Gold, Leura Park Estate ‘Ms Flamingo and Associates’
Rosemary & Olive Oil truffle, Basil truffle Monbulk Winery Sparkling Strawberry wine, Towerhill Estate Late Harvest Riesling
Dark chocolate, Bacon and Salt Caramel truffle Olive Farm Autumn Cabernet


Merchants is a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand.