Food & Wine Photo Credit: Alasdair Elmes, Unsplash

Okanagan Merlot is the Biggest and Baddest Merlot on the Planet

Exhibit A: This limited bottle from Hester Creek.

Ahhh, merlot. You’ve not had the best time of it lately, have you? Ever since Paul Giamatti belted out “I’m not drinking any f***ing merlot” in 2004’s Sideways the wine-going public has avoided the M word like the plague.

But here’s the thing—Okanagan merlot is nothing like the insipid mass-produced central California plonk that Giamatti was railing against. If anything, it’s the opposite. Whereas mass-market merlot is praised for its smoothness, good Okanagan merlot is feisty. Whereas mass-market merlot has soft tannins, ours have serious tannins that often need age to chill out.

I was reminded of all this last night when I cracked this wine-club only bottle from Hester Creek. It comes from vines planted in 1968, which are among the oldest in the province and as such it gives great insight into what’s possible with the combination of mature wines and solid winemaking. At first blush I thought I was drinking syrah—there’s a strong note of cracked black pepper that seemed more like the Rhone than Pomerol. Then there’s some pleasing cherry notes before there’s more earthy, almost black-olive savouriness. It’s the whole package.

It’s also sold out (they only made 76 cases—that’s the rub with those old vines; they don’t crank out too much fruit). Thankfully there are others in the Valley who are creating bad-ass merlot. Burrowing Owl ($30) may be the OG badass merlot producer and while they often show a bit more oak they’re still brawny examples. Likewise Poplar Grove’s merlot ($26) is no shrinking violet with some great sage and eucalyptus notes to balance the plentiful fruit. And of course Hester Creek’s “regular” Reserve merlot sources from some other great old vines.

Any of these are a merlot I’d be happy to bring to a cab fight.

Hester Creek Unica Terra Old Vines Merlot 2015, $32

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