It’s Blind Muscat’s job to go to a lot of wine tastings, which isn’t as much fun as you might think, There’s usually something interesting to be discovered, but often it’s more of the same, just with a bigger crowd.
This one was a treat. The Meritage Association held a 20th anniversary celebration and tasting at Pres a Vi restaurant in San Francisco’s Presidio April 22 and invited some of us press types, and it was a delight.
The Meritage category (pronounced like heritage, not like the Hermitage region of the Rhone) has struggled for two decades to establish itself as an umbrella for Bordeaux-style wines made outside Bordeaux—combinations in whatever proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The association started mainly in California, then spread to other parts of the US, then Canada and other nations, and now finally has 200 members including one, inexplicably, in Bordeaux. (!)
The wineries represented included some heavy hitters: St. Supery, Cosentino, Dry Creek Vineyards and Franciscan—most of them involved in the original formation of the association. And a bonus winery: Casa Nuestra, a hidden, quirky Napa gem, around for 30 years, doing Meritage-labeled wines for a decade or so.
The first thing that struck me was how few writers managed to show up: we were far outnumbered by the winery reps and PR folks who had pulled it together. For those of you who didn’t show, too bad for you.
The premise of the Meritage concept is that blended wines, like those of Bordeaux, can often be more interesting than single-varietal bottles. This was a brave position to take in the days when claiming that something was made from 100% X was a badge of honor, no matter how uni-dimensional the wine. Part of the charter requirement for Meritage membership/labeling has always been that the wine must be the winery’s best effort, not just a way of disposing of the Bordeaux-grape leftovers.
And interesting these wines indeed were—full of flavors, complex, tickling every part of the mouth. And they showed as well that these wines can age remarkably well. We had two from the 1980s, the ’85 Dry Creek Meritage and the ‘86 Cosentino “The Poet,” and both wines were worth the trip to the Presidio. We were treated to several 1994s—from Dry Creek, Cosentino, St. Supery and Franciscan—and the reputation of that vintage was confirmed in spades. (Oh, if only the press could get library wines as bribes . . . ) The Merlot-based Casa Nuestra wines were a bit younger but well worth checking out.
Michaela Rodeno of St. Supery treated us to a couple of Meritage whites, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends from 1996 and 2006, both delightful. If California winemakers could only force themselves to vinify Semillon, we’d have more ageworthy whites.
This post is, of course, one o those show-off, wine-writer-only, you-mere-mortals-weren’t-there reports—a category I normally hate to read. Readers can’t ever get their hands on the wines in question, even if they could afford them. (Dry Creek was down to its last few liters of the 1994, and we glugged half of what they had left.) But the lesson is: if you do have the bucks to buy wines in this category, you and your children and maybe grand-babies will be rewarded. Chances are that these blends will outlive the killer-cult Cabs of the last few years.