Guide to Canada’s Best Wines 2020 – Merlots

Announcing Canada’s Top Merlots

Many of these wines can be easily purchased by clicking on the wine and then the Buy a Case Now button.

Category Overview By Janet Dorozynski, DipWSET, PhD

Has merlot ever recovered from the ridicule of Sideways? Or, alternatively, did Sideways ever really make a difference to the popularity of merlot with consumers and the wineries that continue to grow it? Both questions to ponder though despite the die-hard merlot bashers, the popularity of the variety continues unabated. It remains the second most planted red in the world, after its common blending partner cabernet sauvignon, where it provides softness and mid palate fleshiness to the heft of cabernet sauvignon and perfume of cabernet franc.

According to my colleague and fellow WineAlign critic David Lawrason, merlot is the “lounge singer of red wine”. By this, I assume he means that merlot is the equivalent of easy listening, popular and at times an in the background kind of wine. Perhaps it is the variety’s ability to produce reds that are uncomplicated and capable of making everything from light and juicy sippers to full bodied, brooding and age worthy wines.

On trend with the rest of the world, merlot continues to be a top-planted variety in Canada. In British Columbia, it is the most planted of all varieties and the most planted red grape. According to the British Columbia Wine Institute (soon to be known as Wine Growers British Columbia) merlot plantings account for almost 1600 acres, which is more than double the acreage planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. In Ontario, which does not make grape acreage data publicly available, the latest annual report of VQA Ontario lists merlot as comprising 11% of all production, with cabernet franc sharing an equal percentage and chardonnay ahead at 13% of total production.

In both provinces, merlot is usually made into table wine, with a few examples of Icewine having popped up. It can be made either as a single varietal wine or, more commonly, part of a Bordeaux red blend. Although merlot is known for its softer tannins and rich flavours, in BC for example, the tannins in merlot tend to be quite high, while in Ontario the best examples of merlot have moderate tannins, along with some herbal notes, not unlike when cultivated in parts of Bordeaux.

While plantings are abundant and have increased, the variety is cold sensitive. In Ontario, we have seen devastation of merlot plantings in 2003 and 2014, with some wineries having reported loses of over 70% and more of their crop. However, in warmer vintages, and with winemakers skilled at coaxing the best the grape has to offer, merlot can sing, which I assume is the reason why growers and wineries continue to replant and plant it.

The merlot category for the Buyers Guide to Canadian wine was a reduced offering of what we are used to at the National Wine Awards of Canada, but then nothing in 2020 is usual. There were 26 merlot submissions, with over 60 per cent coming from British Columbia and the remaining 40% from Ontario. In terms of rankings, the top 10 merlots were evenly split between BC and Ontario, with the two top scoring wines coming from each province. Both received scores of 92 points and are priced just shy of $40. Kudos to the 2017 Stratus Merlot and the 2018 Burrowing Owl Vineyard Merlot, both of which reviewers felt showed a greater elegance and finesse and dialed back oak from previous vintages.

Return to the complete Guide to Canada’s Best Wines.

The top 10 Merlots in Canada:

Stratus Merlot 2017, VQA Niagara On The Lake   ($39)

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2018, BC VQA Okanagan Valley  ($40)

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley  ($35)

Volcanic Hills Merlot 2015, Okanagan Valley, BCVQA  ($35)

Painted Rock Merlot 2017, Okanagan Valley VQA  ($40)

Icellars Icel Vineyard Merlot 2017, VQA Niagara On The Lake  ($45)

Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Merlot 2018, VQA Niagara Peninsula  ($26)

Nk’mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2017, Okanagan Valley VQA  ($30)

Leaning Post Merlot 2017, VQA, Niagara Lakeshore  ($45)

Megalomaniac Reserve Merlot 2017, VQA, Niagara Peninsula  ($60)

More top Single Whites:

Nk’mip Cellars Merlot 2018, Okanagan Valley VQA  ($25)
Gray Monk Odyssey Merlot 2017, BC VQA Okanagan Valley  ($28)
Crescent Hill Mad Medusa Merlot 2017, Okanagan Valley  ($29)
Megalomaniac Big Mouth Merlot 2017, VQA Niagara Peninsula  ($35)

C.C. Jentsch Cellars Small Lot Merlot 2016, Golden Mile Bench BC VQA  ($41)
Kacaba Reserve Merlot 2016, Niagara Peninsula VQA  ($45)
Southbrook Estate Grown Small Lot Merlot 2017, VQA Four Mile Creek  ($45)

Tawse Merlot Laundry Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore  ($50)
Four Shadows Merlot 2018, VQA Naramata Bench Okanagan Valley BC  ($25)
Gold Hill Merlot 2014, VQA, Okanagan Valley, Oliver  ($35)


Gold Hill Merlot 2015, VQA, Okanagan Valley  ($35)
Greenlane Merlot 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula  ($37)
Upper Bench Estate Merlot 2016, VQA Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley  ($40)

Rust Wine Co. Summer Breeze Vineyard Merlot 2017, VQA, Okanagan Valley  ($40)
Rust Wine Similkameen Valley Merlot Lazy River Vineyard 2017, VQA BC  ($40)
Redstone Merlot Redstone Vineyard 2016, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore  ($46)

indicates the wine received a 5 star value rating from two or more writers.

Return to the complete Guide to Canada’s Best Wines.