Blending red grapes the merit in ‘Meritage’ wines

Go into most wine shops, and it’s likely that the largest category of wines you’ll find is red blends.

It has been this way for ages with French wines, especially Bordeaux, where the grapes allowed for reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenèré.

In the New World, there have been attempts to emulate Old World blends, the most famous of which is the Meritage Alliance. “Meritage” is a made-up word that combines “merit” and “heritage” — and rhymes with the latter.

According to the organization, a wine may carry the name “Meritage” if it’s a blend of at least two Bordeaux varieties. Such a wine may not contain more than 90 percent of one variety, and it should be the winery’s finest blend.

While many producers follow the Bordeaux model, plenty of winemakers no longer feel constrained to certain varieties and will include just about anything in an effort to make a superb wine.

Here are some fantastic red blends we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Baer Winery 2009 Ursa, Columbia Valley, $39: This blend of Cabernet Franc (44 percent), Merlot (38 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (9 percent) and Malbec opens with a gorgeous nose that brings hints of blueberry cobbler, dried cranberry, violet and sweet oak tones of tobacco and black pepper. The drink is dang delicious with its theme of inky blue fruit, bittersweet chocolate and Aussie black licorice.

Cathedral Ridge Winery 2009 Bordheauxd Head Red, Columbia Valley, $26: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (44 percent) Syrah (33 percent) and Merlot opens with aromas of plums, blueberry, chocolate and mint, and one might think there’s some Cabernet Franc in the mix with its notes of leaf tobacco. The Syrah component shows on the palate with notes of huckleberry and gaminess, backed by a big expansion of blueberry and black cherry. Slaty tannins with that mountain berry acidity make for delicious balance.

Ginkgo Forest Winery 2009 Coalesce, Wahluke Slope, $26: Syrah (34 percent) melds with Grenache (33 percent) and Mourvèdre to offer aromas of freshly scraped vanilla bean, rose petal and lilac joined by boysenberry, blueberry, cranberry and humidor notes. It’s a juicy, yet delicate drink that’s very fruit-forward, offering hints of boysenberry and blueberry along with pie cherry and milk chocolate. There’s a flash of rose water on the midpalate and pencil shavings in the finish merely adds to the texture of sublime tannins.

Robert Karl Cellars 2009 Claret, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50 percent), Merlot (15 percent), Cabernet Franc (15 percent), Petit Verdot (10 percent) and Malbec opens with aromatics of blueberry, boysenberry, cinnamon, nutmeg, espresso and bubble gum. On the attack, flavors lead with plums and fig, followed by pie cherry acidity, a strand of chocolaty tannin and black licorice. Hints of dried herbs in the finish bode well for flank steak or duck confit with a cherry glaze. It’s a bargain at this price, and the screwcap makes it easy to get into.

Southard Winery 2010 Sugarloaf Vineyard Red, Yakima Valley, $20: This blend of Grenache (61 percent), Mourvedre (18 percent), Cinsault (12 percent) and Counoise smells of whole-berry cranberry sauce, bubble gum, cloves, toffee, cedar and saddle leather. There’s an even flow to the flavors of boysenberry, blueberry and Western serviceberry, bringing tantalizing acidity, minimal tannins and a bit of leafiness in the finish.

Michael Florentino Cellars 2007 Fusione, Columbia Valley, $20: Here is a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese that opens with aromas of cherry cola, plums, blackberry, peppermint stick, cedar and a bit of crushed leaf. The bright entry and red fruit profile of the drink is akin to some Pinot Noir, rounded off in the finish by bittersweet chocolate and horehound.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.

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