Thursday, May 8, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Okanagan Merlot and BBQ Meats

Spring "officially" began on March 20th, and although the winter season has dragged on into May, we've also seen a few short bursts of Spring-like weather. This has given my husband and I the chance to light up the barbecue and pair our grilled meats with some of the 2011 Merlots and Merlot blends from British Columbia.

The 2011 growing season is said to be one of the coolest on record in the Okanagan. Cool and wet conditions kicked off Spring and continued into the early summer. A late August heat wave allowed more hang time for the grapes to achieve physiological ripeness, and the time frame for harvest lasted a few weeks. According to the BC Wine Institute, Okanagan Merlots typically show a flavour profile that includes raspberries, plums, black cherries, licorice, oranges, coffee, toffee, chocolate, even fruit cake! They are also known to be medium to full-bodied, with moderate to assertive intensity. Here are a few of the standout wines we tasted:

Intrigue Wines is a relatively new winery in the Okanagan, but they are making their name known through their 2011 Merlot, which is consistently sold out on their website. Mellow and smooth, with soft tannins well integrated into the palate of ripe cherries, plum and smoke. Light in body and easy to drink, it will pair well with pizza, grilled chicken and ribs. The wine was also an excellent counterbalance to a Cuban cigar after dinner due to it's smoky finish, according to my husband!

Tinhorn Creek released a Merlot that is also fruit-forward with notes of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Bright and juicy, with refreshing acidity and a long, vibrant finish. This wine was great on it's own while watching the sun set on the deck, but would also play nicely with grilled chicken salads.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Series Merlot starts with a pronounced nose of plums and cloves, leading into a polished palate of raspberries, cherries and more spice. Well structured and rich with a sultry, smoky finish. This wine is an excellent accompaniment to steak and prime rib. Perhaps the best Canadian Merlot I have ever tasted, and has me back on the proverbial Merlot bandwagon!

Merlot has always been a great sidekick to Cabernet Sauvignon, softening it's bold tannins and adding fruitiness to the palate. This is no exception for Cab-Merlot blends in the Okanagan, and the two varietals continue to compliment eachother - both in bottle and with food.

Sumac Ridge's 2011 Cabernet Merlot has the approachable charm of a Merlot combined with the body and structure of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of plum, blackberry and green bell pepper linger on the palate through the long, smooth finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with grilled pork and vegetable kebabs. A fun wine to share with good company over animated conversation.

The Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Merlot contains notes of fresh strawberries, blackcurrant leaves and green beans, intertwined with mouthwatering acidity and grippy tannins. This lively, intense wine would be great with everything from grilled bison burgers to venison. Excellent value for money at a price of $20 CDN.

It was interesting to note that most of the Merlot wines we tasted had a smokiness on the palate, which added a beautiful complexity to the wines. They were also very expressive of the varietal, showing the traditional notes of plum and fresh berries. Despite the early season growing challenges, the wines were well structured and married nicely with all the grilled meats we paired with them. If you love Merlot, why not include a bottle, or 2, or 3 from the Okanagan? It will be sure to impress both you and your guests alike.