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California Winery of the Year Napa’s Merryvale Vineyards continually offer great wines at rational prices.

by QRW Staff
Summer 2009

It couldn’t be otherwise. No winery in the last several “Best of the Best” blind tastings has achieved more success than Napa Valley’s Merryvale Vineyards. Success is gauged largely on consistency and versatility. Merryvale has consistently made our highest ranking — Five Stars / Outstanding — in three varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Red Bordeaux Blend. Their Merlot has often achieved Four-Stars / Excellent, and for the record over the last few years we have granted very few stars to any Merlot in California because we were unhappy with the quality. With Merlot, Merryvale tends to transcend the mundane. Put another way, of Merryvale’s four major wines, none has been found wanting at our tastings. Hence, our award is one of recognition. We offer no plaque for their walls, there is no commercialization, just recognition and respect for a winery that has quietly and passionately gone about its business.

Another important factor in considering our award is based on availability. Merryvale is neither boutique nor volume winery. It has an annual production of about 100,000 cases (15,000 for Merryvale, which will be separated from its Starmont wines) from 125 of its own acres, essentially making most of their wines estate wines — an important factor because the winery can better control the quality of their vineyards and grapes. Its distribution is readily national, and easily found on restaurant wine menus and in retail wine shops.

Yet another factor is price. Wines in the category of Best of The Best are hardly inexpensive, but, given the greedy global price increases over the years, they remain sensibly on terra firma. Merryvale is known for its powerful red Bordeaux-like wines, and its finest red — Profile (majestic, deep, bold, with immense finish — comes close to “cult” status, without cult-like price: it costs $125 (comparable near-cult wines, like Rubicon and Insignia, are $35 to $100 more, with considerably less production). There are over 1,500 cases of Profile in the marketplace, and it’s nice to know they’re not all allocated to restaurants and to special subscription lists; you can actually buy them. Quality and availability count. Senior winemaker and native Californian Sean Foster has crafted some other first-rate Merryvale wines, like the Chardonnay Carneros (pineapple, toasty oak, with elegance) and the Merlot Napa (plum, cherry, and mocha notes); both are priced at $35; his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (ripe, blackberry, anise / cassis flavors with prodigious texture and finish) has a suggested retail price of $50. (Price may vary from region to region.)

For us, Merryvale offers quality, consistency, and price. Further, the wines are produced from 100 percent of their varietal; they are barreled in French Oak; and all have Napa appellations. And perhaps the most admirable element is that even in less than stellar vintage years, like 1998, 2000, or 2003, Merryvale can make fine wine. This is the mark of any great wine house, especially in California and Bordeaux. There is nothing not to like. They farm their own vineyards sustainably, and all their estate vineyards are certified Napa Green Farms. Merryvale is a family-owned winery, who for the last 25 years have been single-minded about fine wine and about the environment.

Quarterly Review of Wines, Summer 2009, page 61

Updated: Tuesday, June 07, 2011