First off, this isn't one of those lets diss Merlot articles. I love Merlot, and there are few things more indicative than a sophomoric understanding of wine than parroting Miles screed in Sideways from 16 years ago. What's more, Merlot grown in B.C. is particularly good—tannic, spicy with none of the approachable "softness" that Paul Giamatti was railing against. Hester Creek, Burrowing Owl, Polar Grove: they all make bad-ass merlot.
But all those positive attributes—big shoulders, solid structure—make it a suspy choice for rosé, a type of wine in which subtlety is paramount. Worse, given that in almost no wine region in the world is Merlot grown for rosé (with a very small, very qualified nod to the Clairet of Bordeaux, which is amazing), when you see it on a label in B.C., it means that someone either grew too much Merlot or found some for a cheap price and that's the ethos in which the wine was born—not exactly the stuff of vinous legends. So many times this year I have B.C. rosé with a deep pink hue that tastes like flipping sangria, and when I look at the grapes: the dreaded M word. Or worse, they don't list the grapes out of quite proper shame.
So Imagine my surprise a few nights ago when I cracked this bottle from Culmina. It's a lovely pale pink, there's some crisp peach notes to go with the more classic themes of strawberries and raspberries and best of all, it's under $20. The headline "The Best Under $20 Rosé" danced in my head. I was in heaven... until I did some sleuthing and found that it's made from Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Malbec may rival Merlot for its unsuitability for rosé (Cab Franc on the other hand is a great grape for rosé, but it's getting third billing). What gives? Culmina was founded by the deep-pocketed Don Triggs—it was his pride and joy and he wasn't making anything just for the money in the latter part of his career. He then sold it last year to the even deeper pocketed Arterra, who likewise aren't in the business of damaging valuable brands they paid a tonne for to make a quick pink buck. I chalked it up to the unquestionably high quality of the Culmina grapes and the high-priced talented wine making team. But ultimately it was an exception that proved the rule.
Until, a few nights later, I had the above bottle from Mission Hill—another flush producer who doesn't do anything that might damage a valuable brand to make a quick profit. In fact, I sometimes wonder if there aren't wines in the portfolio that are sold at a loss in order to keep the brand's prestige up. This time I knew beforehand what I was getting into—a ridiculous blend of Merlot, Shiraz (they don't even call it Syrah!) and Pinot Noir. Admittedly the latter two varietals are, respectively, pretty good and amazing for rosé...but why sully them with Merlot? Damned if it wasn't another example of dry rosé with good acidity and a really well balanced melange of classic strawberries with some lovely savoury, sage notes. It's fuller bodied, but balanced. And $22! The headline "The Best Under $22 Rosé" danced in my head.
But other than these two....