It is fun when you have a chance to try two vintages of the same wine. In this case, I tasted the Upper Bench Estate Winery Estate Grown Merlot 2017 and their Merlot 2018. Both coming from the Naramata Bench. I assume the 2018 grapes are sourced from other vineyards, outside of those owned by Upper Bench due to the larger number of cases of wine produced. In case you didn’t know, Upper Bench also makes artisan cheese, so you can order both wine and cheese from them at the same time and have a nice party at home.
2017 and 2018 Harvests
2017 was a more normal growing season compared to the two previous seasons. Although there were horrible wildfires, the fires occurred in early summer, not later in the summer when veraison occurs. Smoke seems to be more problematic for grapes at veraison. The smoke earlier in the summer filtered the sunshine which positively impacted the growing season by slowing down the rate of grape ripening and flavour development.
In 2018 in the Okanagan Valley, the growing season was cooler on average. The 2017-18 winter was mild but had lots of snow which lead to flooding in the Spring. The canopy had vigorous growth. July was the only very hot month, but with the pronounced canopy, there was little dehydration from the vines. August was cooler with some of the coolness coming from a two-three week period of wildfire smoke which blocked photosynthesis and delayed veraison, and September was the coolest on record. October was cool but sunny. This lead to a long growing season and allowed for later picking for the red grapes. The wines overall show restrained alcohol, crisp acidity, ripe tannins for the reds, and intense fruit flavour.
So I assume that the 2017 will be a bit fuller-bodied and deeper coloured than the 2018. What did my tasting notes show?
My Wine Tasting Notes
Upper Bench Estate Winery Estate Grown Merlot 2017 (BC $40)
Only 84 cases were produced. 5% Cabernet Sauvignon blended into the wine. Wine aged for 21 months in barrel, 33% in new French oak. Unfined. Comes with a solid piece of cork, good quality.
Appearance: Deep garnet, about 95% opaque with a solid core.
Nose: Medium intensity with a blend of sweet spices, red and black fruits, light vanilla and touches of chocolate and oak. The aroma intensity after decanting was a bit lighter. I noted red cherries and apple aromas in addition to the other aromas previously mentioned.
Palate: Dry, medium body, semi-round with a firm tannic backbone that gets stronger to the finish. Medium-minus acidity. The wine does get rounder with some air. Flavours of black cherries, black fruit and some cherry syrup, along with touches of sweet spice, vanilla and oak. The wine was round and had a thicker mouthfeel with decanting. The tannins were still firm. I picked up a touch of floral on the palate.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with grippy tannins, black cherries fruit along with vanilla and oak.
Rating: with decanting. Almost opaque garnet. Sweet spices, with red and black fruit aromas. Ripe black cherry and blackberry flavours and a touch of vanilla and oak. Dry and semi-round mouthfeel. Very firm tannins give this wine excellent ageing potential.
Upper Bench Estate Winery Merlot 2018 (BC $30)
610 cases produced. Wine aged for 18 months in barrel, 30% new French oak. Unfined. Comes with an aggregate cork stopper.
Appearance: Medium-plus garnet colour, translucent to the core. About 80% opaque.
Nose: Pronounced aromas of fresh, sweet red cherries and dark fruits, some leather, and touches of oak and black cherry syrup. Add plum after some swirling. The aromas persist with decanting.
Palate: Dry, light mouthfeel. Lean with high acidity. The wine does get thicker and rounder with air. Lighter tannins. High toned tart red fruit and black fruit flavours, plus some black cherry syrup, plum, sweet spices, oak, and a touch of chocolate. The wine becomes fuller-bodied and rounder with decanting and the tannins get a little stronger. Same fruit flavours, and you can add black cherries. The touch of chocolate does disappear.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with red fruits, and some pepperiness and oak. A light mouthfeel to the finish. More acidity than tannins on the finish, but tannins get stronger with air. You also get some dark fruit and cocoa with air. Quite a firm tannic finish with decanting.
Rating: – with decanting. Fresh red cherry and dark fruit nose. Dry with a light lean mouthfeel that gets bigger and rounder with decanting. Tart red and black fruits, a hint of oak, black cherry syrup and plums, plus a hint of sweet spices.
Both wines come in over 14% alcohol, but you can’t tell with the fruit flavours, oak, and acidity balancing it out.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
If you would like to purchase these wines and their cheese, you can get them at the winery (170 Upper Bench Road South, Penticton, BC), or online at www.upperbench.ca. Their wines are also available at various restaurants and wine shops. The BC VQA Wine Info Centre in Penticton carries the 2018 Merlot. Swirl Wine Store says it carries the Merlot, but shows a picture of the 2017. Not sure if the 2018 is in stock there and that this was an old picture.