Meritage and California Blends

All 13 blends tasted


While much of California’s fame is due to varietal wine, or at least wines that are labeled with a single varietal, there has always been a strong tradition of creating blended wines from the variety of vineyards and grapes that thrive in California. From the original field blends planted by immigrating Italians to the creation of the Meritage label in 1988, blended wines have been the backbone of the California wine industry.

Meritage, pronounced like “heritage,” was established to help promote California’s blended wines that were based on Bordeaux varietals, both red and white. While these blends were a natural extension of the Bordeaux estate model emulated in California -- not to mention the abundance of Bordeaux varietals -- the fact is that California in particular is exceptionally well suited to a grand variety of blended wines, though that has not prevented the expansion of the Meritage Alliance nationwide.

Not only do many grapes grow particularly well on the West Coast, but it may be argued that some do too well. The addition of a bit of acid, spice, or tannin can often help make a good wine better and a fine wine something special. Of course, the evidence can also show that blending wine is no magic bullet and crap wine is just as likely to come from several grape varieties.

2007 Lyeth Sonoma County Meritage 13.5%, $18
A good value for those looking for a more restrained, elegant Meritage blend.
Very expressive on the nose with red currant fruit, vanilla, smoke, soil, and lightly herbaceous tomato leaf tones. There’s some backing wood spice here, but it’s well integrated and lends this quite the Bordelaise tone. Easy on entry then firming up some in the mouth. This is restrained and elegant with red and black raspberry fruit, accented with spicy oak tones and gentle suggestions of slightly medicinal herbs. The finish is bright and moderately long, with tannins that are slightly drying today but enough fruit balance them out nicely. Develops lovely complexity in the mouth and good aromatics on the finish. A subtle wine for the near term.  89pts
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NV Patterson Cellars WoodsLake Due Anni 14.9%, $18
56% 2007 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; 44% 2008 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah

May be hard to track down but this is a good value. Chocolately and herbal at first, with a nice peppery edge and subtle oak shadings over the dark, black berry fruit. Nicely bright on entry with balanced tannins quickly building on the palate, which offers up fresh coffee and chocolate accents to the curranty fruit. The wine gains a bit of assertive oak on the backend, adding a cigarbox tone that extends through the long finish, which ends with a burst of red fruits. A nicely balanced, restrained, complex wine that exhibits early accessibility. 90pts
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2007 EOS Estate French Connection Paso Robles 14%, $20

55% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc

A good value in a bigger style blend. Earthy and sweetly cinnamonny on the nose with a nice chocolate-covered raspberry/Raisinette tone, backed up with cedary oak tones. With air, this develops attractive pencil lead and gently floral top notes with a subtle herbal hint.  This is rather rich on entry with a soft, flannelly feel. There’s plenty of structure but lots of bold, round fruit that helps keep it covered. There are nice nuanced notes of herb, pencil lead, and something slightly steely on the palate. The finish is tight and focused, with all the soft tannins wrapping around the fruit. It really ends fairly quickly with a nice tannic bite, so I expect some time in the cellar will help this wine relax. It’s already delicious but I expect this to be become downright lush with some age. 89pts
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2006 Seven Hills Pentad Walla Walla Valley 13.8%, $50
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Verdot, 7% Carmenere, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec

Smells rather minty with a pruny edge to the dark chocolate-covered coffee bean-accented black cherry fruit. With air, this reveals a smoky, nettle tone, some vanilla nuances and an ashy campfire accent. On the palate, this starts out with some dried fruit notes that are quickly joined by lots of fresh, juicy red plum tones. The tannins are very well managed and float over the palate, covered by the bright fruit. The oak pops a bit on the mid-palate but fades away on the backend replaced by a nice, very lightly vegetal fennel tone and more sweet, liquory, plummy fruit. With air, the fruit gets a bit darker, with an almost grilled meaty note, and the finish slowly grows longer with an almost candied coffee tone but that fruit really wins out in the end. A nice wine that shares as much with Bordeaux as it does with your typical domestic Meritage. 92pts
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2005 Jana Napa Valley Cathedral 13.5%, $55

92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4%Petite Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc

Oaky and full of black spice on the nose. There’s a light herbaceous floral top note with peppery undertones and toasted wood spice/burnt marshmallow notes over the core of black currant fruit. With air, the floral notes grow and the fruit expands, revealing plummy, dried date notes. Very bright and light on entry with plenty of soft tannins and juicy acidity supporting pure black currant and sweet black plum fruit. Very fruit-driven with an innate sweetness but not big or sweet. In fact, this is quite dry once you work past the babyfat. The mid-palate is marked by tobacco and nutty oak that adds depth and complexity, then the fruit picks up again on the long finish. A rather exuberant wine that offers tons of fruit but in a balanced style that doesn’t even come close to being cloying or over-ripe. 92pts
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2008 Balboa Winery Mith Walla Walla Valley 14.3%, $40
Tight and youthfully reticent on the nose with low, dark aromas of mint, violet, potting soil and dried plums. Dense and slightly chewy on entry with obvious richness and yet not huge weight. This is very tight today, but shows fine balance in the mouth. There are some nice coffee, mocha, and grilled meaty edges that help frame the tight core of boysenberry and black cherry fruit. The finish is short and super-tight but, with air, it begins to reveal some spicy fruit tones with a nice edge of oak influence as well.  I don’t know what the blend is here but it is a really fine effort that needs time to blossom, say three-plus years. 91pts
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2007 Girard Artistry Napa Valley 15%, $40
61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot

Big sweet tobacco leaf notes up front are joined by sweet floral tones with hints of mint, jasmine and sassafras accenting the plummy black currant fruit. This is big wine: rich and packed with flavor in the mouth, though it’s rather bright and firmly medium-bodied in the mouth. There are plenty of acids here that give the red and blue fruits freshness and a bright quality, but the alcohol is apparent on the palate and adds some heat to the finish. The tannins build through the mouth and really come on rather strongly on the woody, minty finish. A lot of wine, but very young today. It’s got good freshness but the alcohol and intensity will be a turnoff for some people. 90pts
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2006 Pininfarina Napa Valley Vino Rosso 14.5%, $45
64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Syrah

Intensely aromatic with noticeable wood being well buffered by spice notes, rich red fruit, plum and berry tones and floral accents. Juicy on entry with really polished tannins that slowly creep up on the palate but never break through the fresh, zesty red fruits that are framed with some lightly minty coffee cream. The wood tannins are slightly drying on the backend but offer a nice counterpoint to the sweet fruit on the palate. The oak adds a subtle caramel note here but that’s replaced by more cedary character on the moderate finish. A wine to drink on the near term for its balance and bright fruit. 90pts
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2008 Owen Roe Abbot’s Tale Columbia Valley 14.1%, $28
25% Zinfandel, 20% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 13%, Grenache, 7% Blaufrankish, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 1% Merlot

Smells very much like roast beef, right out of the bottle. The lightly game notes are joined by hints of candlewax, herbs, quinine  and black fruits. Lush and soft on entry with a medium-bodied, transparent feel to the wine. This is supple and broad with lovely mineral, game, and medicinal notes accenting the jammy wild berry fruit. There’s a hint of cough lozenge cherry on the mid-palate that leads to a lightly spicy, light jammy but still fresh wild strawberry and cherry finish that ends with a touch of white chocolate.  Intriguingly complex and attractively fresh. 89pts
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2007 Rodney Strong Symmetry Alexander Valley 15.1%
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot

Toasty wood, carob, caramel, dried chili and a hint of dill frame the dark black raspberry black berry fruit on the nose.  This lacks some integration in the mouth, with lots of sweet fruit seemingly separate from the assertive toasty oak. There’s a deep herbal, grassy vegetal component on the palate, which clashes with the sweetness here. Lots of wood tannin is drying as well but the sweetness of the fruit just barely saves the palate, though the finish is dominated by drying tannins and is short and reminiscent of coffee grinds. This is massively constructed and a wine for optimists. It’s complex and packed with extract but that comes with the price of it being massively tannic.  88pts
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Artiste Inflorescence California
Bottled 2010; 54% Grenache, 46% Tempranillo, 14.4%

Stemmy raspberry fruit accented by coffee and leather, with jammy background notes that have some orange marmalade character. This is big on entry, very big in fact, with a lack of center that I find typical of Grenache. There are some nice fruit tones, chocolate Twizzlers, raspberry jam, herbs and dried orange peels but they seemed to be on the roof of my mouth and cheeks, with alcohol and tannins dominating my tongue. Drying short finish.  A tough wine, --perhaps it’s too young -- but then this doesn’t seem to have the stuffing to improve. 84pts 
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2005 Mount Veeder Reserve Napa Valley 14.5%
Soft on the nose with spicy oak accenting floral and dried fruit aromas. Very light on entry and then it gains weight but not intensity of flavor. A rather big, structured wine with drying tannins that’s missing a bit of a mid-palate and is drying and tough on the finish, which shows some heat. This is oaky and earthy and tough. It’s not  bad wine and would benefit from being paired with a nice steak, and may even improve in the cellar, but for now it’s really a wine for tannin hounds. 84pts
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2006 Chateau St Jean Cinq Cepages Sonoma 14.4%
Sweet and frankly oaky on the nose with loads of coffee, carob and chocolate over lightly minty, herb-tinged black fruits. Smooth and balanced at first then turning creamy with vanilla and butterscotch flavors accenting the spicy black fruit. The palate is pretty much dominated by wood tannin with some plummy fruit breaking through but this is a beaver’s dream today. The finish is spicy and somewhat hot with licorice accents, short, and dominated by sweet, toasty wood. Really tough-going today. 83pts
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To view the photos for this article, go to Meritage and Funky Blends.

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  • Snooth User: phagar
    341038 147

    THANK YOU for finally making all the views available on one page!

    Jan 04, 2011 at 11:46 PM

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    I'm a real fan of Flora Springs Trilogy

    Jan 06, 2011 at 2:38 AM

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