2009 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage

I am just realizing this is my first blog entry on red wine…see, I am not as one dimensional as you thought!

Prior to buying this, I had never seen the name Meritage before, so I checked it out and found this on it: It is a term coined by American winemakers, that stands for Bordeaux-style wines. This means not one or two grape varietals but rather a blend of several varietals to create a complex and harmonious product. Some California winemakers decided to found the Meritage Association (now: Meritage Alliance) in 1988 and you have to be a member to label wines “Meritage”. A clever guy came up with a combination of “merit” and “heritage”, so it is to be pronounced like heritage, just with an “m”…

While modern times have become more and more obsessed with single variety wines (you know what I’m talking about when you look at your supermarket’s or winestore’s wine displays), it is not at all uncommon to blend several grapes into one wine. Bordeaux is the prime example, but also Chianti classico is made of several varietals (until a couple of years ago, they could even include white grapes!) same as a lot of wines from Portugal’s Douro region. It gives winemakers the unique chance of blending different tastes together into one. I personally like blended wines, the rough edges of a cabernet sauvignon can be mellowed by merlot for example. When I once talked to a Douro winemaker friend of mine and mentioned that I had tried and hated a single varietal “tinta barocca” in South Africa, he looked at me in shock. How could anyone make single variety tinta barocca, he asked? It is a classic filler grape for bigger reds…

Now on to this one. Sterling is a huge winery in Napa Valley. You can check out their site here (with elevator music…). The Vintner’s Collection is their “cheap”, really mass label. We paid about $10, I think. This Meritage (thankfully they put that on the label) has 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 7% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot in it. Upon pouring, it showed its not overly dark color, which I found surprising. I had expected a way darker red. The nose was strong and full of different smells: initially strawberry hit me, then vanilla and cherry. Somewhere in the middle, herbal and floral notes crept in and I think I smelled some very light tobacco as well. It was awesome. I have not had a bold red in a while, and this reminded me of all things good. The taste was chewy and powerful. Initially smoky, leathery, some black pepper. Then red fruits came in. There was a distinct note of acidity that gave the impression of some unripe grapes in the wine. This acidity also made the wine taste more like plums, which I found appealing. The finish is ok.

I did like this wine. It was bold and not ashamed of it. Especially given that it was mass-produced I did like it. Some imbalances, the acidity, but all in all a very decent wine. Oh, and it went well with the pizza we had, too.

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9 thoughts on “2009 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage

  1. I recently tried the Cabernet Sauvignon and found it to be quite good as well. However, I’ve had the Meritage and find it to be just a bit better than the Cab. Cheers!

  2. My first exposure to ‘Meritage’ was through Cosentino Winery in Yountville. I even think Mitch Cosentino was instrumental in the movement to get meritage defined as you so aptly did above. Cosentino’s ‘Poet’ can be truly fantastic (although a bit pricey).

  3. Thanks for this Meritage review. I have not as of yet tried any but do see the Sterling often promoted at my store. BTW the in-store promoting seems to help because it sells very well :)
    I do like blends and afterwards usually end up looking for the individual varietals for taste testing purposes, for example; Carignan, Grenache, Bonarda, Petit Verdot. I’m always intrigued by their individual characteristics and how they play a part in the blending process. Looking forward to a little Meritage in my near future.

    • I agree that it is fun to check out the varietals and then realize what they bring to the blended wine. It’s like playing detective. Let me know what you think of the sterling once you tried it. And thanks for the input!!

  4. DianeR says:

    I can’t offer a detailed analysis of the wine the way you can, but I can report that we visited Sterling Vineyards last September on a 2-day winery tour. The ride up the aerial tram to the Sterling winery is unique, the setting is amazing, the self-guided tour is instructive for those who aren’t familiar with the wine-making process, and the tasting was satisfying (we did the Reserve Tasting). The next day, we went (literally) across the street to Castello di Amorosa (http://castellodiamorosa.ewinerysolutions.com) and although we assumed it would be cartoonish and amateurish after Sterling, it was in fact genuine and we far preferred their wines to the Sterling. I think we could be convinced to make another comparison trip if you two are out here sometime and would like to make it an overnight!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Diane! I saw photos of their aerial tram and thought it looked rather gimmicky…I have not had a Castello di Amorosa before, but checking the website made me laugh. That does indeed look very, very cartoonish. I love when places surprise me, so I am happy that you had a great experience there. You know, we’re always in for tastings and we should look into that when we finally make it over to your coast!!

    • I just checked their wine list, and OMG: $12 for a bottle of grape juice??? A German vintner will sell that for $3…that price equals a good spaetlese at a decent winery…WOW.

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