Column: Bordeaux-style winemaking in the Okanagan

Meritage continues to come pouring out of B.C. wineries and for most of those wineries, it’s their premium wine and their pride and joy. The name was trademarked and called Meritage (rhymes with heritage) by California winemakers in 1989 because the wine has merit and as it is made with a winery’s best grapes in the Bordeaux tradition, it has heritage.

A Meritage is a North American wine that has two or more of the traditional components found in white or red Bordeaux. Because of French labeling laws, other regions except Bordeaux cannot use Bordeaux on the label.

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Most Meritages are red and can have two or more of the following Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carmenere. White Meritages must have two or all three of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, or Muscadelle. No variety can make up more than 90 per cent of the blend and the total production is limited to guarantee high quality.

Harry McWatters, CEO of Encore Vineyards was the first in Canada to produce a Sumac Ridge Meritage. Harry has since sold Sumac but today he makes three Meritages at his recently opened Time Winery in downtown Penticton

TheTime 2017 White Meritage ($25.00) is a blend of 73 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 27 per cent Semillon. The Sauvignon Blanc adds fruitiness and acidity and aging in oak adds a creaminess and richness. On the other hand, Semillon reduces any grassiness that the Sauvignon might have, and contributes a fig aroma, a smooth texture and overall complexity.

Expect a nose of melon, pear and tangerine and smooth tastes of ripe apricot and mango with notes of oak. After you swallow, there is an extended dry fruity finish, a vibrant finale for a delicious white.

The red sister, the Time 2016 Meritage ($29.99) has 65 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 per cent Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon adds black fruit and tannin for structure and longevity. To soften the tannins, the Merlot provides a plummy fruitiness. And the Cabernet Franc also softens the tannins and supplies finesse, perfumed bouquet, and spicy earthiness.

I loved the complexity of this dark red Time Meritage. The bouquet reveals plums, black currant and cloves. On the palate I enjoyed the blackberry fruit with forest floor needles, licorice, chocolate shavings, kisses of sweet oak and silky tannins.

It was delicious with a rib-eye steak with mushroom jus enriched by a splash of the wine.

A third wine from Encore to try is the McWatters Collection 2016 Meritage ($29.99). Like the Time Meritage, this red has the traditional Bordeaux trio of grapes but this time there is more Cabernet Sauvignon so there is more of a black currant character and a bit more structure due to the Cab tannins and more oak.

The grapes were grown on the Black Sage bench in Oliver where the grapes, especially the Cab Sauv can fully ripen. Overall, another winner for the winemaking team under Graham Pierce, Nadine Allander and CEO, Harry McWatters.

A lamb roast coated with rosemary, garlic and Dijon mustard would be a perfect choice for the McWatters Collection Red Meritage.

 All three of today’s wines are available in Richmond at Save-On Foods Ironwood and select private liquor stores or at the new Time Winery in Penticton.

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