The golden glow of White Meritage 

Golden in glass, elegant and exquisite, a White Meritage is sure to add some vibrance to your holiday table.  

Each bottle of the 2020 McWatters Collection White Meritage bears the signature of pioneer winemaker Harry McWatters who was instrumental in bringing the Meritage label to Canada. His namesake wine brand launched in 2011.

The history of Meritage stems back to 1988 when North American vintners formed an alliance to promote wines blended from traditional Bordeaux varieties. While the word may be invented —a mashup of “merit” and “heritage” — the art of blending specific grape varieties has been proven through the centuries in France. Techniques that B.C. winemakers are emulating exceptionally well. 

The term Meritage is provincially regulated for use on B.C. VQA wine. A red blend of Bordeaux red grapes of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is well known; the White Meritage label is reserved for a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Okanagan winemakers affectionately call it “Sauv-Sem.”

While Sauvignon Blanc makes the list of the top 10 grape varieties in acres planted (403 acres in 2019), its lesser-known Bordeaux cousin Sémillon can add some magic to the bottle. 

Like the reds, White Meritage is often aged in oak barrels; sometimes it is just the Sémillon and sometimes both. Sauvignon Blanc can dominate with only 10 percent of the full-bodied Sémillon blended in, while other blends offer a true duo of these companion Bordeaux grapes. What emerges is a broad offering of premium B. C. whites with each winemaker creating a signature blend.

The aromatic 2020 McWatters Collection White Meritage ($29.99) was crafted by winemaker Lynzee Schatz. This blend of 55 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 45 per cent Sémillon saw one-half of the Sémillon portion fermented in oak barrels. 

While aging in oak adds to the aroma and structure of the wine, it also adds a golden glow. This was so evident as Bench 1775 winemaker Richard Kanazawa brought out a barrel sample of the soon-to-be-released 2020 Sauvignon-Sémillon. Deep gold in colour, with a woodsy aroma and great structure, the wine is Kanazawa’s first vintage of the winery’s Bordeaux-inspired blend.  

Going forward, Sauv-Sem will be a pillar of Bench 1775’s portfolio as new acreage has been planted with Sémillon.

The multiple award-winning Kanazawa returned to head up winemaking at the Naramata Bench winery in April 2020. It’s his second round (he has released wines under his own brand for nearly a decade); his first vintage with Bench 1775 was in 2012. His 2012 Bench 1775 Blanc de Blanc captured a platinum medal at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

2019 Bench 1775 White Meritage: Look for notes of papaya, pineapple, citrus that follow through to the palate, with a touch of nutmeg toastiness from the wood.

A golden glass of Mission Hill Family Estate 2021 Jagged Rock Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon ($40) also offers all the fragrant notes, layers and mouthfeel salivation of a well-balanced Sauv-Sem. The 70-30 Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blend was individually aged, with 30 percent in concrete egg and the remaining in French oak. This is one for the cellar.

Ready yourself for the burst of flavour with the Sauv-Sem crafted at Black Hills Estate on the Black Sage Bench. Dubbed “Alibi,” it is the first white wine ever produced at the winery, the first vintage dates back to 2003. 

Passionfruit notes bursts forward followed by mouth-watering acidity in the 2021 Black Hills Alibi ($27.99). Record high temperatures recorded in the summer of 2021 brought the grapes to full phenolic ripeness. Time spent ageing on yeast in oak barrels contributes richness and creamy notes. The blend is 85 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 15 per cent Sémillon.

Fun notes of ripe pineapple and coconut can be found in the Jackson Triggs 2020 Grand Reserve White Meritage ($19.99), thanks to the ideal summer weather that year that continued into fall for a long growing season. Here’s a premium white for your table at a stellar price. 

The Covert Farms 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon ($22.43) presents itself lighter in colour, crisp and clean as it was aged 100 per cent in stainless steel. The fruit on the nose is very subtle with a tell-tale sign of ripen pineapple. You can feel the weight of the Sem but the zip of the Sauv comes through with full acidity and the mineralogy on the finish.

These blends are true artistry in a glass. Blended with Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon adds fruit complexity and a roundness to the finished wine. Its lower acidity tempers the grassiness inherent to Sauv.

Search for White Meritage or Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon on the front or back label as you hunt to uncover some elegant and premium whites. 

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