A Question of Meritage

What is holding white Meritage back?

 


We’re now on episode five of cellar clean-up, today focusing on a handful of White Meritage Blends. I would love to have had additional examples to compare these wines to, but that was not to be. It’s a fascinating, if tiny category of wines. In the face of both the popularity of and obviously suitable sites for red Meritage Blends one could be forgiven for thinking that the Whites should be more popular. Alas, they are not.
Why that is is anybodies guess, but I have a hypothesis, or two. The easy answer is that it is easy to sell Sauvignon Blanc. You dont need to barrel age it, or blend it. It moves, and quickly for a decent price. Wineries, we must remember, are businesses and need some cash flow to keep the lights on, the grapes picked, and the barrels bought. having a balanced product flow makes all of that much easier. There’s also another reason, directly connected to the first, and that is blending.

If you look at the wines that follow, they all with one exception, the not quite meritage blend Equilibrium from Franciscan, feature a majority of semillon. Very possibly the least well understood white variety out there. These blends are quirky to say the least. Semillon is a fabulous age worthy variety. Often appearing quite dull and boring when very young, Semillon can become expansively textured and offers up deep and slightly waxy flavors of fruit, honey and nuts. A combination which works quite well with the toast and spice of oak ageing. 
 
A wine based on Semillon, which many are probably more familiar with as a component in dessert wines, notably those from Sauternes and Barsac in Bordeaux, lacks the immediacy of say a Chardonnay. Instead one will eventually find complexity, nuance, and a wonderfully enveloping texture in a great Semillon based wine. That trade-off, the waiting part in particular, is Semillon’s, and to a large extent White Meritage’s Achilles heel. 
 
It’s a shame that more folks don’t try these wines, and particularly aged examples of them. If they would I have no doubt that their popularity would increase. Not only are they engaging wines on their own, but they also make for fantastic food wines. Wines of subtlety, and texture. A real alternative to Chardonnay and mostly far more food friendly. The price is perhaps the finale hurdle for these wines. Lots of barrel ageing tends to be involved, and barrels do not come cheaply. And then there is Semillon, not exactly widely planted on the west coast. 
 
Everything taken together presents one with a bit of a conundrum. These are great wines, that few try. They are not inexpensive, but often more interesting than other whites at a similar price. They seem unfairly constrained by the marketplace, and while one may posit why that is, it is undeniable. The more important question perhaps is what can we do to help change that. To help alter the perception. It will be slow and steady work, that I can being today with this short piece, but truth be known if I only get 5 examples to taste a year it is no wonder that they remain a bit player in the world of wine.  
 
51% Semillon, 49% Sauvignon Blanc
 
Big melon aromas greet the nose along with well judged oak spice that sets off an apple pie tone to the nose along with gorgeous creamy vanilla notes. Apple pie ala mode all over this nose. Smooth and rich with early oak spice and that great creaminess, in texture and flavor wrapped up in subtle herb and orchard fruit flavors. White peach and lemon along with green apple and melon all come together on the palate. This lacks the gravitas of some of these wines but makes up for with terrific intensity and good complexity. Some raw almond flavors some out on the backend and fade on the slightly oak spiced, heirloom apple toned finish. There’s a touch of tannin adding texture here as well. This is drinking very well indeed. 91pts
 
62% Semillon, 38% Sauvignon Blanc
 
Hugely aromatic with intense floral framed notes of spiced, dried lemons draped over melon, dried peach and grapefruit aromas. A little soft on entry and smaller scaled in the mouth than the nose suggest. This delivers rather vibrant and taut melon, apricot and grapefruit flavors with a nice gooseberry accent to them and subtle toasty shadings of oak on the palate. This could gain some weight and richness with a year or two in the cellar, though it’s vibrant acids suggest it might be best consumed over the short term. With air it gains some almond and herb nuance on the backend and shows more kiwi and lime flavors through it’s moderately long finish. A zesty wine. 90pts
 
62% Semillon, 38% Sauvignon Blanc
 
Pretty aromas greet the nose even if they are mostly oak driven notes of vanilla and caramel layered over a base of dried melon, cashew, beeswax and dried floral aromas that have hints of banana and white pepper adding complexity. Supple and open on the palate with a soft gentleness to the texture. the flavors mirror the nose with hints of banana and spice framing a core of waxy white fruit. The backend shows more of a floral lift and a hint of tannin that adds weight and length to the finish. Really clean on the finish with a hint of minerality, this is a subtle wine and needs some food to show what it’s got. All delicacy and detail. 88pts
 
Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Muscat 
 
Bright and juicy on the nose with aromas of fresh sliced pineapple, Asian pears, and meyer lemons topped with jasmine and honeysuckle perfumes. Bright but with an initial touch of sweetness that adds some richness on the palate. The flavors are tart and lean towards the green apple and citrus end of the spectrum with a honeyed edge to them. There’s nice freshness here and a slight green edge to the fruits that keeps them lively and bright if with sort of grapy and sweet kiwi flavors drenched in lime juice. 87pts
 
2011 Buty
60% Semillon 19% Sauvignon 21% Muscadelle Columbia Valley 13.8% $24
 
Very tight and reticent on the nose. Rather rich on entry and supple with a gorgeous mouthfeel and slow to emerge flavors of melon, fig, a touch of vanilla,  and dried white flowers wrapped in subtle pie crust notes. The finish shows  a whisper of tannin, well integrated but supportive acids and good length. This needs time to develop. Right now it’s all about balance and potential, but a few years in the cellar will reveal much more.  87pts

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Tiakittie
    1041141 89

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! for exploring these wines!! One of my absolute favourite Whites! My first exposure was to a Canadian Example, no less and I have been hooked ever since! The Spiciness from the oak, the creamy textures and the wonderful backbone of fruit make these wines a delight to drink. I cook, and with every sip at least 5 or 6 recipes pop into my head. Whenever I find one, I don't hesitate...I buy it, price be damned!! The other Canadians on this site will think I'm a lunatic for saying it, but if you look past the CIC table wine category Jackson Triggs (one of our largest producers - on the scale of Beringer), produces some fantastic VQA wines and their Grand Reserve White Meritage is one of them!!

    Jan 30, 2014 at 10:14 AM


  • Snooth User: ChefJune
    359212 33

    I agree it's a shame more US wineries don't make a white meritage. We've been enjoying St. Supery's Virtu for a decade now.

    Jan 30, 2014 at 10:46 AM


  • Snooth User: Matt Walker
    Hand of Snooth
    842795 61,448

    Nice to see this underrated wine style getting some well deserved attention. I have been a fan of St. Supery's Virtu for a while now. Anyone looking for a few more options would do well in trying the Jacquelynn Cuvee Blanc (made at Chateau Boswell in Napa) and my personal favorite: DeLille's Chaleur Estate Blanc from Washington.

    Jan 30, 2014 at 3:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 820

    I think part of the problem with white meritage in the US has to do with dry white Bordeaux not being all that popular either. With white meritage using Bordeaux as a template for these wines, it make sense that neither sells well here. I absolutely love Semillon and the blends with Sauvignon Blanc. I once made a Semillon when I used to make wines. What a great grape. Ventana made a great one many years ago, as did Wente with their Chateau Semillon circa 1970.

    Jan 30, 2014 at 4:04 PM


  • Snooth User: Gordoben
    1328401 136

    Many thanks for that run down. Down here we use typical Aussie reductionism and simply call these wines 'SSB'. They are the backbone of of the white wine industry in Western Australia (notably the Margaret River) and very popular. In my youth they called these wines 'white burgundy' - go figure!

    Jan 30, 2014 at 6:16 PM


  • Snooth User: DM94523
    77883 112

    We always enjoy the St Supery Virtu, as well. FYI, Raymond Vineyards also makes a White Meritage as part of their Small Lot Collection.

    Jan 30, 2014 at 9:52 PM


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