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Meritage taste-off yields surprise winner

Northside Staff Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, Kelley O'Neill, Bill Winston

The staff at Northside Wine and Spirits recently blind tasted a selection of eight red Meritage wines from California. The term Meritage (rhymes with heritage) refers to wine blended from two or more grape varieties associated with the French region of Bordeaux. The most important of these varieties for red wine are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. For white Meritage wines, the two principal varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Production must be less than 25,000 cases.

Meritage was coined in 1988 by a group of California vintners. These winemakers wanted to create a name that would indicate a high quality wine made from a blend of different grapes rather than a single variety. They staged an international contest to find a name and selected Meritage, combining the words merit and heritage, from the 6,000 entries they received. Meritage is now a registered trademark; a winery must be licensed by the Meritage Association to use it on a label.

Unfortunately, the wines tasted, priced $15 - $40 a bottle, wereless than awe inspiring. Several were lackluster, poorly balanced, or marred by off flavors. Additionally, as it turns out, the first-place wine wasn't even a Meritage, and shouldn't have been in the tasting! The 2004 Davis Family Barn d'Or (Barn of Gold), $33 per bottle, was a lovely wine, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Syrah, a grape grown in France's Rhône Valley, but not in Bordeaux [Sku 10674].* Finishing a close second was a true Meritage, the $40 a bottle, elegantly wrought 2001 Whitethorn "Alder Springs Vineyard," a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot.

Barn d'Or has a complex nose of dark fruit scents and hints of smoke, spice, and vanilla. It is full and rich tasting with a lingering, blackberryish finish. Try this beauty with roasts, braised dishes, grilled portobellos, or a piece of aged English Cheddar!

"Top Wine Picks" as seen in The Ithaca Journal 3/17/2008.

*To purchase this wine, simply type its "Sku" into the "Find" field at the top of the page, then click "Go."

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