Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Meritage 2004
Though the wine designation “Meritage” is supposed to be pronounced like “heritage,” it may
inevitably take on a more French pronunciation, since it has an undeniable French connection.
Founded in 1988, the Meritage Association authorizes its member wineries—most of which are
in California—to use the term for what are commonly termed “Bordeaux” blends. By and
large, this refers to red wines in which Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Merlot, with
smaller additions of traditional Bordeaux grapes like Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit
The 2004 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Meritage is a perfect example of a wine that benefits from the labeling. At 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, the $12 wine doesn't reach the 75% level of any one grape to qualify it as a varietal. The alternative term, “Red Table Wine,” doesn't tell the story either. The term Meritage fits better, but you could also call this wine—and I mean this as a compliment—a Claret. Though based on a French term originally, Claret (stressed on the first syllable, with the final “t” pronounced) is really a British designation for red Bordeaux wines that drink rather well. And this Kendall-Jackson effort certainly does.
The wine is sourced from a number of California counties, from Mendocino through Napa and Sonoma and down to San Luis Obispo. Aging is nine months in French and American oak, half new. The result is a medium intensity purple with purple edges. The wine brings aromas of black cherry, blackberry, black pepper, cocoa, and violet to the nose, with sweet, ripe, almost floral warmth behind the aromatic notes.
On the palate, the fruit is diverse and of good depth, featuring cassis, blackberry, plum,
strawberry and a little bit of cranberry tang. The wine has some center notes of dried lavender
and sage, supported by a bottom section of licorice, tobacco and cocoa. The tannins engage
the mouth well in a way that gets the most out of the fruit. It all ties together into an opulent
mouthfeel and finish that is energetic and yet civilized and smooth. This is the kind of wine
you definitely want to enjoy in convivial company.
The “Meritage” concept (however you pronounce the word) recognizes the value of Bordeaux-style blends in the face of varietally-driven American wine styles.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman