To understand why, we need to take a quick trip to France. More specifically, to Bordeaux. The cabernet merlot blend forms the backbone of Bordeaux wine. And the natural harmony of these two grapes meant that when it came time for Australian wine to step out of the shadows of Old World titans like France, we did so by shamelessly copying their recipes. While our shiraz-led blends are arguably more famous, cab merlot is a constant companion, forever topping up wine glasses and cellars across the country.
Accurately describing the taste of cabernet merlot can be difficult, as there are a lot of variables at play. Climate, ripeness, production methods and blend percentages will all impact the final taste of the wine, although there are some common threads that run through all examples of this blend. The renowned smoothness of merlot curbs the full-bodied bite of cabernet sauvignon, and allows the blend to showcase the best bits of both grapes. You can expect hints of deeply coloured fruits like plum and blueberry, along with mocha, spice and cassis. This is a sweet and spicy wine with a supple texture.
Understanding the differences between cabernet sauvignon and merlot allows you to more fully appreciate cab merlot as a blend. Merlot is a very fruity wine – the fruit flavours mentioned above will predominantly come from the merlot side of the blend, as will the mocha and dark chocolate notes. The smoothness of merlot comes from its low acidity – where other full-bodied reds will finish will real bite, merlot instead leaves a smooth tobacco and graphite mouthfeel. Cabernet sauvignon, on the other hand, is a tannin-heavy, firmly acidic wine, introducing measured bite into the cab merlot blend. Herbier and more intense, it also contributes pepper, clove and vanilla flavours. Aged cabernets are also noticeably oaky. Rather than compete with each other, cabernet sauvignon and merlot work together beautifully, sometimes elevating each other to heights out of the reach of their respective 100% varietal versions.
Whether a cab merlot will age well will depend on its quality. The nature of this blend is such that even a cheap cask wine version can be quite palatable, although lower end produce is best consumed sooner rather than later. A high quality cab merlot, on the other hand, will age wonderfully thanks to its robust structure. It may not do its finest work for a decade or more, but your patience will be rewarded.