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Sumac Ridge Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2003
With a cool climate suitable for more than just icewine production, Canada is also home to excellent dry still and sparkling wines. Most viticulture is based in Ontario on the east coast and British Columbia on the west coast. Because of the high risk of winter freeze and spring frost, plantings are typically centered on large bodies of water to take advantage of their temperature moderating effects.
In Ontario, particularly on the Niagara Peninsula, aromatic white varieties like Riesling and Gewürztraminer are most successful, often with racy acidity and citrus notes. Many wineries produce both dry and semi-dry versions. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc perform nicely here as well. For icewine, French-American hybrid variety Vidal is popular. In British Columbia, many of the same grapes are grown, but there is also a significant emphasis on Bordeaux varieties—especially Merlot.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.