Irish Monkey Cellars
N.V. - Meritage - Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado
$18 / 375 ml.

Winemaking has gone through its phases, but one style has not just survived, but has truly remained among the 'great of greats'. Of course in France it is known so simply as Bordeaux, which brings up images of Cabernet and long ageing, a carefully balanced austere styled wine, the perfect compliment to many a long-cooked savory dish. Rightly however, the Europeans are sensitive about the borrowed use of their department terms. We all call sparkling wine from any source, champagne. Understandably, the people of Champagne are less than amused.

Sometime in the 1980's to rectify this California winemakers proposed the term Meritage to fairly represent the unique wines produced by cautious vinting, studious blending, long ageing and sumptuous bottling - that were based on the classic Bordeaux grape varieties. In order of "effect" - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Mouvedre are all considered classic. A Meritage wine may be made with as few as 3 of the varieties (but with Cabernet Sauvignon as the majority), and up to all of them.

Our Irish Monkey Meritage from 2005 was produced in very small French oak barrels, aged en barrique, not separate from each other. It is based on the trio Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, with Sangiovese substituting for Mouvedre (as it is a close fit). The wine shows its long ageing, and is worthy of being opened well in advance of consumption "to breathe".

Note: on some years we will not be producing a Meritage, if the unique requirements of the grapes is not met.

Note 2: the word Meritage has also been broadened to include compositions from other classic winegrowing regions in the world. We intend to produce a Rhone Meritage based on Syrah, Malbec and Semillon, as well as a Portugueser Meritage based on the Touriga family, Alvarinho, Tinta Cao, Tinta Ruiz, Sausao and Baga.

Serving
Temperature Cool room Start out cooler, open bottle, and let breath for at least an hour. Alternately, carefully decant to a decanter, and allow to breathe for a half hour. The decanter should itself have been slightly chilled! (Rarely remembered)
Glass Short, full bowl Meritages gain no benefit from being swirled, as their flavors are already married into balance. Indeed, a great personal 'experiment' can be done by pouring two equal sized glasses, vigorously swirling one for a few minutes, and leaving the other untouched. Then, taste.
Transition to

Cabernet Franc
Primitivo
Late Harvest Zin
Very full Syrah
Port

The transition essentially requires that the follow-on wine have strong fruit and flavor, or be entirely different in nature (Port). Watch out for the more delicate examples of Cab Franc and Syrah, as they will just fade after the onslaught of Meritage's flavors.