THE NSW Southern Highlands – just 1.5hrs south of Sydney – is not one of those regions that spring quickly to front of mind when the talk turns to wine, yet the first wines (mainly fortifieds) were made there as far back as the 1820s, and "modern day" wineries began to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s.
One of the largest today is Southern Highland Wines that has a compact portfolio of premium reds, whites and sparklings made from its own and contract-grower cool climate vineyards at close to 700m above sea-level.
Lovers of increasingly-popular Merlot will find their 2007 a stand-out: pour into a glass and it almost flashes seductively while at the same time releasing delightful aromas of black cherry, fruitcake, leather, cassis and earthy cedar wood. Taste it and you'll want to keep the bottle to yourself as these characteristics come through wonderfully on the palate as well.
This Southern Highland Wines' Merlot is a gem made from fruit that proves just how magical cool climate wines can be with their cycle of cold winters, cool springs, never-too-hot summers and cool autumns.
For Merlot buffs this one's also well priced at $19 to enjoy with a winter's beef pot roast and steamed kipfler potatoes, or for a bit of adventure, wild pork.
ONE FOR LUNCH: Long Flats' Pink Moscato at just $9.90 is amongst the best-value you'll find in wines with a little fizz to them – plus it's only around half the normal alcohol level of most "fizzies."
Italian Moscato wines are made from Muscat of Alexandria fruit that we know as Gordo Blanco, and this Long Flat Pink Moscato from the Murray Darling has lovely apple and musk flavours with a touch of raspberry from a small blend of Shiraz; an excellent value inclusion at that next party – or enjoy it at lunch with easy chilli and lime prawns on the barbecue.
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 COOL idea: a stand-out Merlot from NSW's Southern Highland Wines.
 VALUE party "fizz" at just $9.90 – or enjoy with BBQ'd chilli and lime prawns.