Some of B.C.’s most elegant red blends

  • Jan. 11, 2018 3:30 p.m.

Blended red wines combine different varieties of grapes that each contribute their own distinct flavours.

Clever, creative winemakers exploit these individual characteristics to achieve balance and complexity in their wines.

Red wine grapes each have their own flavour profiles. Pinot Noir can taste like strawberries, Merlot often tastes like plums, Syrah and Petit Verdot are reminiscent of raspberries or blackberries, Cabernet Franc can be quite herbal with peppery black raspberry notes and classic Cabernet Sauvignon has the blackcurrant flavours winegeeks call ‘cassis’.

As British Columbia’s best vineyards mature, the depth and complexity of the grapes they produce continues to improve. When some our best wineries are sold and bought – refinanced and recapitalized – retiring winemakers are often replaced with fresh faces schooled in winemaking in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and California.

Usually the best red blends are over $20. Occasionally, rich and satisfying non-vintage reds are almost affordable. Devilishly delicious, Diabolica Red (71142) $15.49 combines Merlot, Petit Verdot, Shiraz and Cabernet for a mouthful of cherry and pomegranate flavours that slide into blueberries, boysenberries and plums.

The 2013 vintage was challenging in the Okanagan. Early bud break, a wet June followed by a very warm July pushed canopy growth and was followed by a wet cold fall. Despite these challenges, some fascinating wines were produced!

A righteously Bordeaux-like blend of 52 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 34 per cent Merlot, and 14 per cent Cabernet Franc, McWatters Collection 2013 Meritage (303024) $25.99 is a beautifully balanced wine with a smooth, elegant structure of fine ripe tannins underpinning lush blackberry and blackcurrant aromas and flavours. French oak aging for 15 months added hints of caramel, coffee and dark chocolate. Taste this one at the Vancouver International Wine Festival in six weeks.

Merlot is the Okanagan Valley’s most widely planted red wine grape but savvy winemakers are continuing to discover the possibilities that Cabernet Franc can offer. Blends that lead with Cabernet Franc are more like reds from France’s Loire Valley – spicy and sassy.

Naramata’s Elephant Island Naysayer 2013 Cab. Franc-Merlot (142281) $25.99 opens with dusky strawberry and ripe cherry aromas and flavours before sliding into raspberry, plum and blackcurrant. A spicy twist of tree bark and earthy pepper notes makes for a fascinating finish.

Summer started early in the Okanagan Valley in 2014 and continued mostly warm and dry. A prolific vintage, it finished off with cool weather in September and a long warm October. Perfect conditions for ripe and well structured red wines.

With 40 per cent of Moon Curser ‘Border Vines’ 2014 (783936) $25.99 being Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine leads and finishes with distinctly blackcurrant notes. Unusual for the Okanagan, the supporting players are the South American specialty varieties Carmenere and Malbec – at 20 per cent each – followed up by Merlot and Petit Verdot. There’s a seductive softness to this juicy red blend.

The South Okanagan provides most of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the best of these BC red blends. Great wine grapes are also being grown in the nearby Similkameen Valley. Higher elevations and cooler temperatures ripen the grapes more slowly and can produce wines with spicier and more complex aromas and flavours.

From the sunny Cawston Bench and their Similkameen Valley vineyard, Orofino Red Bridge Red 2013 (547174) $26.29 is a blend of 70 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Syrah and five percent each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Opening with earthy dried black cherry and blackberry aromas and flavours, it moves through plum and prune and finishes with a wisp of liquorice.

The changes in ownership and winemaking expertise are producing some very exciting and often elegantly structured red blends throughout British Columbia’s wine making scene. Not just in the Okanagan but the Similkameen and throughout the Islands. Investigate some of these masterfully made wines, now – they are sure to be different in another 5 years!

Sure to dazzle, Church & State Quintessential 2013 (35469) $55.65 is arguably one of the very best red wines. A classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, it is grown in Church & State’s Black Sage Bench vineyards in the dusty sand and sagebrush of the South Oakanagn. Luxurious and intense, it overflows with blackcurrant, cedar and sage notes that continually change in the glass and on the tongue.

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