B.C. Wine Culture

Time Merlot. Supplied photo

Don’t Hate on Merlot

Despite what Miles said, Merlot is a wonderful grape. Merlot is a dark blue-coloured wine grape variety that is used as both a blending grape, and for some of the most extraordinary and expensive varietal wines from all around the world. And it’s #InternationalMerlotDay so let’s talk Merlot.

Across the United States, Merlot is widely grown, with California and Washington growing the most. For the uninitiated, in the 2004 movie Sideways, wine snob character Miles goes on a massive, expletive-filled rant against Merlot, as he related the grape to his ex-wife. This movie did well at the box office, impacting public behavior toward Pinot Noir and away from Merlot. Studies show that Merlot sales dropped for a few years. To combat this, winemakers doubled down on cropping and quality, and by 2017, Merlot was back in favour. Today, good American Merlot wines offer some of the best values in the wine world.

France, however, is the birthplace of Merlot. Bordeaux is widely regarded as home to the most famous and highly coveted wine blends in the world. And guess what? Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, Merlot is one of the primary grapes used in Bordeaux wine. Merlot is the most widely planted grape in the region.

And if there is anyone who has not enjoyed a Merlot wine from Chile, make a point to give them a try. This iconic Bordeaux grape was first brought to Chile in the 19th century, and jumped to wine fame during a massive spike in the consumption of Chilean wine in the 1990s. Chilean Merlot tends to be full-bodied yet gentle, relatively low in alcohol yet with high acidity, making them juicy and food friendly. A fun wine fact on Chilean Merlot is that in 1994 it was discovered that much of what was thought to be Merlot was actually Carménère (but that’s a different grape for a different day).

Singletree Winery’s Merlot Grapes in Naramata, British Columbia. Laura Preckel photo

Merlot Here at Home

Here in British Columbia, Merlot is the most planted grape. Of a total of 4,152 hectares (10,260 acres) for the entire province, 641 hectares of Merlot is planted (1,585 acres). Merlot is favoured because it does well in many types of soil, and as an early ripening variety, it will ripen before any winter rains set in. (The flipside is that Merlot is vulnerable to spring frosts.)

In BC, the structure of Merlot differs from other parts of the world, as the colder climate in Canada gives way to wonderfully complex Merlot wines. British Columbia’s unique climate naturally produces more structure. BC Merlot will typically have a medium to full body, medium to high tannins and flavours that include black cherry, black plum, chocolate and floral violet notes. As in many parts of the world it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

British Columbia Merlot to Try

We’d like to suggest two Merlot wines for you to taste:

Singletree Winery 2016 Merlot

This is a BRAND NEW release – the inaugural merlot release from Singletree Winery.

Singletree Winery has a location in the Fraser valley in Abbotsford, and Naramata bench in the Okanagan. The Etsell family has deep roots in the agricultural community and named their winery Singletree, not because of a tree on their landscape, but after the single harness yoke which was an essential tool for pioneering farmers from all over the province. With careful attention to their land, they are committed to showcasing the best of British Columbia in every bottle.

This Merlot from the acclaimed Naramata bench is a showstopper. A lush, full-bodied Merlot with dark berry fruits, lively freshness and a silky tannin structure.

Winemaking: 18 months of barrel aging rounds out the tannins and flavours.

198 cases produced

$26.00 a bottle and you can buy it online here.

TIME Winery & Kitchen is known for its amazing boards and delicious Merlot. Chris Stenberg photo

TIME Winery 2015 Merlot

Built within a revitalized historic theatre in downtown Penticton, the heart of South Okanagan wine country, TIME Winery & Kitchen offers a tasting bar, lounge and intimate outdoor patio for guests to enjoy. The wines are made by renowned BC winemaker Graham Pierce who is committed to creating wines that express the unique flavours of Okanagan wine country.

This 100% Merlot uses the grapes from a premium vineyard south of the town of Oliver, BC which features stone-free, sandy material that drains rapidly and is well suited to irrigated grape production. The wine was aged in a combination of small French and American oak barrels.

Crafted from vines originally planted in 1993, this wine is robust with classic aromas of plum, cherry, and blueberry. The palate is lush and rich, with a lengthy finish. Firm yet approachable tannins makes this an age-worthy wine.

225 cases produced

$24.99 a bottle and you can buy it online here.

What do YOU think of Merlot—what wineries or countries have you tasted a Merlot wine from?

—by Leeann Froese, Town Hall Brands

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