Tasting Notes: Meritage

I was able to taste wines from about 50 of the 205 vineyards that currently belong to the Meritage Association and produce wines bearing that designation on the label. I limited my tasting to reds, since whites represent only a fraction of the wines made by meritage producers. Each of the ten wines listed below—roughly in order of my preference—exhibited compelling character and represented a diversity and breadth that exemplify the challenge of trying to establish meritage as a single, readily identifiable "style".

QUINTESSA RUTHERFORD NAPA VALLEY CALIFORNIA 2004 ($125). More concentrated than in previous vintages, but still possessing incredible finesse; a true Napa star that will benefit from cellaring.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE "ARTIST SERIES" COLUMBIA VALLEY WASHINGTON 2004 ($48). Gratifyingly complex, with a lusciously long, layered finish.

DRY CREEK VINEYARD "THE MARINER" DRY CREEK VALLEY CALIFORNIA 2004 ($40). Deeply flavored, with a dark berry character and firm tannins, which should soften with a few years of bottle age.

ROSENTHAL—THE MALIBU ESTATE MALIBU NEWTON CANYON CALIFORNIA 2002 ($65). Lithe and lively, with bright red berry fruit and subtle hints of coffee and cocoa.

FLORA SPRINGS "TRILOGY" NAPA VALLEY 2004 ($65). "Trilogy" has been top-notch virtually every year since its debut, in 1984; the 2004 tastes restrained, not robust. Past vintages suggest a long life.

ST. SUPÉRY "ÉLU" NAPA VALLEY CALIFORNIA 2003 ($65). Exuberant but not excessive, with a silky finish.

RODNEY STRONG "SYMMETRY" ALEXANDER VALLEY CALIFORNIA 2004 ($55). Powerful yet harmonious, with impressive length and complexity.

FRANCISCAN "MAGNIFICAT" NAPA VALLEY CALIFORNIA 2004 ($50). More deeply flavored than in some vintages, with firm but pliant tannins.

ROBERT HALL "HALL RANCH" PASO RO BLES CALIFORNIA 2005 ($40). Well-balanced and harmonious, though rich and very ripe; a succulent wine.

CASA RONDEÑA WINERY NEW MEXICO 2005 ($23). Delicate but not frail, with nuanced subtlety; a delectable surprise.