Browsing the blog archives for April, 2010

Meritage – America’s Bordeaux Blends

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News and Events

Earlier this evening a friend of ours asked a good question about what a “Meritage” wine is and how the term came about.  I thought it would be nice to share a bit of our discussion.

Cheers!

“Meritage” (rhymes with heritage) is purely an American word that is a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage.”  In 1988, a group of American winemakers got together to find a way to identify and market red and white wines made from the traditional Bordeaux grapes.  Through a contest they later chose the term “Meritage” to represent their style of wines, and thus the Meritage Alliance was born.

Why did they have to do this?  In the United States we prefer to see the grape variety on the label because it makes it easier for the consumer to identify and select a wine.  America’s complex labeling laws say that if you want to label the wine with the grape’s variety at least 75% of that grape needs to be in the bottle.  For a long time, winemakers knew that in many cases they could make better wines if they blended in some other varieties.  For instance, a wine with 100% cabernet sauvignon may be good, but if they blended in some merlot or cabernet franc it might be great!  The problem was that if the blend contained less than 75% of any one grape they were forced to label the wines as red or white “table wine” – not a very appealing marketing strategy.  Many producers turned to creating proprietary names to get around the legal obstacles.  Opus One, Dominus, and Aeros are just a few examples.  The Meritage Alliance exists to assist the producers in marketing their wines and helping to educate the industry and consumers about America’s Bordeaux-style blends.

It is important to note that not just any grapes can be blended together and be called a Meritage wine.  The blend must be a combination of the “nobel” Bordeaux varieties.  The red wines can contain: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and on the rare occasion St. Macaire, gros verdot and carmenère. The whites can contain: sauvignon blanc, sémillon or muscadelle. No single wine can make up more than 90% of the blend.  In addition to using the right grapes, the producers must also join the Meritage Alliance for a small licensing fee.

Varietal Voyage No.19 – 2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah

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Varietal Voyage

The first syrah and the nineteenth wine on the Varietal Voyage is the 2005 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Syrah ($19) made by John Giguiere and the crew at CREW Wines.

You might not recognize the Giguiere name but you’ll probably recognize many of the wines this family has made.  Before starting the CREW Wine Company in 2004, John Giguiere, his wife Lane, and brother Karl owned and operated the R.H. Phillips Winery (sold in 2000 and closed it’s doors last year) and produced well-known brands like Toasted Head and EXP.  With the addition of Dan Cederquist as partner and winemaker, CREW Wine Company produces several brands including: Chasing Venus, Mossback, Sawbuck, and of course, Matchbook.  From New Zealand to California, each brand focuses on the best wines that each region has to offer.

The Matchbook vineyard was planted in 2002 in the Dunnigan Hills region of northwest Yolo County.  Located about 35 miles northeast of Napa County in the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains, this area encompasses about 90,000 acres and is warmer and dryer than most grape growing regions. Fertile alluvial soils combined with well-managed pruning and irrigation help make this a suitable region for syrah.  Unlike R.H. Phillips which produced upwards of 750,000 cases per vintage, John and Dan are focused on reducing yields and increasing the overall quality of their wines.  As an example, the Matchbook vineyard yielded a little over 4,700 cases of syrah in 2005.  The Matchbook vineyard is young and still maturing, so it will be interesting to see how the fruit and wines develop with future vintages.

This was a very enjoyable wine and at $19 you can’t go wrong.  The Matchbook Syrah has a pleasant medium body with intense aromas of spicy ripe blackberries with maybe just a little vanilla and tobacco mixed in for good measure.  Normally syrah is a little on the tannic side and requires some aging, but the addition of some cabernet sauvignon (11%) adds some complexity and helps soften the wine making it quite delicious and approachable now.

2005 J.L. Giguiere Matchbook Syrah ($19)

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Ramey Wine Cellars – 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

A few weeks ago, Sue and I shared a bottle of David Ramey’s Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in tribute to a close friend who recently passed away.  We don’t normally drink wines of this caliber, mainly because of their rarity and price, but every once in awhile you need drink something extra special, even if it is for a somber occasion.  Sue and I looked at sharing this bottle as an enjoyable and memorable celebration of our friend’s life.

David Ramey is considered to be one of vanguards of the American wine industry.  For the past three decades he has used old-world techniques that emphasize terroir and applied them to new-world ideas helping elevate the quality and distinction of today’s California wines.

After graduating from UC Davis he worked for Château Pétrus where he learned the time-honored methods of winemaking from France’s top vignerons.  After returning from France, David helped establish some of California’s most well-known wineries including:  Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Estate.  In 1996, David and his wife Carla started Ramey Wine Cellars with the goal of creating great, terroir-specific wines using David’s unique blend of old and new-world methods.

Located in the town of Healdsburg in north-central Sonoma County, David Ramey and his team make a small variety of high quality, single-vineyard and appellation specific wines including several cabernet sauvignon blends, chardonnays, and a few syrahs.  The 2005 Pedregal Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% petit verdot) is one of Ramey’s single-vineyard blends from the Pedregal Vineyard, on the stony slopes of Napa Valley’s Oakville district.  Through a long-term lease, Ramey Wine Cellars now has complete control over the vineyard and can make all of the critical management and harvesting decisions in order to get the best possible fruit for this unique wine.

Tasting Notes

It’s deep ruby, almost opaque color exudes a perfume of violets, cassis and dark cherries followed by aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The succulent flavors of currants and ripe cherries are quite pronounced with just a touch of sweetness.  Undertones of cocoa, coffee, and earthy truffles add amazing complexity with a full-bodied richness that is intense but not overwhelming to the palate.  Even at this young age the tannins are silky and very approachable with plenty of aging potential.  Paired with a juicy, bone-in rib eye steak, this wine makes a great partner, but there is so much going on here that I would suggest drinking this wine on its own to fully appreciate every little nuance.

Wine Events Calender at TOG!

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News and Events

I’ve just added an events calendar to the website for tracking the wine education and tasting events in our local area.  If you have any events that the world should know about, send it to me and I’ll post it to the calendar.  As I find time, I’ll start to expand the calendar to include events outside the Milwaukee area.

Cheers!

L’Ecole No.41 – 2007 Columbia Valley Chardonnay

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Tasting Note

You’ll find the L’Ecole No.41 Winery in a restored schoolhouse in the historic Walla Walla community of Frenchtown.  L’Ecole No.41 is a family run operation started by Jean and Baker Ferguson.  It now belongs to their daughter, Megan and her husband Martin Clubb.

The winery may be in Walla Walla, but the fruit for L’Ecole No.41′s Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($19) comes from several vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley appellation.  This part of the state lies near the 46th parallel giving it a similar amount of sunlight to the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Combine the climate and volcanic soils with good drainage and poor nutrients, and you have ideal conditions for growing grapes.  The French winemaking traditions brought by French-Canadian pioneers that settled this region are echoed in this Burgundian-style chardonnay.

Tasting Notes

Barrel fermented with a backbone of nevry acidity and complex mineral notes, this wine reminded me of the fine white burgundies from Meursault. Pronounced aromas of apple and pear are layered with the slightest hints of pineapple.  Seven month of sur lie aging in French oak barrels gives this elegant wine a rich creamy texture and a long nutty finish.

We paired this one with a great recipe Sue found in Real Simple Magazine.  This chardonnay with the Potato, Leek and Feta Tart is fantastic!

Varietal Voyage No.18 – 2007 Terra Andina Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I posted something new on the Varietal Voyage.  Things have been crazy at home and work making it difficult to find time to write.  Rest assured, we are back on our journey.

The last wine we tasted on the Varietal Voyage was Château Grand Destieu, a merlot from St. Emilion.  This week’s wine is the last merlot on our list: Terra Andina’s  2007 Merlot.

Terra Andina, a subsidiary of the Claro Group, is one of Chile’s largest wine producers making a wide variety of wines from vineyards across Chile’s diverse geography and climates.  Chief winemaker, Oscar Salas, took the reigns from his mentor Stefano Gandolini in 2008.  Trained in California and in some of Chile’s most famous wineries, Oscar is well versed in New World winemaking techniques and technologies. But his approach to winemaking is decidedly Old World with a focus on balance and finesse allowing natural flavors and aromas to shine through.

The 2007 Merlot is from Terra Andina’s Varietals collection, an affordable line of wines highlighting the character and expression of not only merlot, but other international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, carmenère, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

On the label you’ll notice the Denominación de Origen, or DO on the label says that this wine comes from Chile’s Central Valley, a large region containing the sub-regions of the Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, and Maule Valleys (Terra Andina has a handy map identifying these regions as well as many others).  This label means that the grapes in this wine can come from anywhere within the Central Valley.  This allows the winemakers to chose the best fruit from a wide selection of terroirs, which is fairly common with affordable wines like this one.   Normally this is done to keeps costs down, but it also helps the winemaker to keep a consistent flavor profile from vintage to vintage.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because this wine is affordable ($9) that it is somehow less than delicious.  Chile is known for making quality wines at very low prices and 2007 Merlot is no exception.  It’s dark ruby color is deep and rich.  Fragrant aromas of ripe blackberries and plums are enhanced by peppery spice.  The medium-bodies flavors of blackcurrant and cocoa are bold and straightforward with faint hints of creamy vanilla lurking in the background.  The finish is somewhat short and clean but pleasing nonetheless.

2007 Terra Andina Merlot ($9)

  • Approx. 85% merlot, 15% mystery grape (my guess is cabernet sauvignon or possibly carménère)
  • Central Valley, Chile
  • Producer’s Fact Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…