STERLING VINEYARDS VINTNERS COLLECTION MERLOT 2002, Napa, California, 13.5%, #622837 $15.40 (Followup of the 2001 vintage)
The Sterling website says: "2002 was a cool and consistent early growing season in Monterey, ending in a warm and sunny September; perfect conditions to lengthen "hang-time" on the vines and develop grapes with intense fruit flavors and aromas. The 2002 Merlot is a clear ruby color with aromas of ripe blackberry, jammy red fruit, vanilla, nutmeg, dark chocolate, and toasty oak. On the palate are flavors of rich black fruits; ripe black cherries, blackberries and a lingering finish of fine grain tannins." My notes: There is a nice warmth of berry/cherry in the nose along with a pretty ruby colour in the glass. Supple fruit and roundness as in the 2001 - very sippable and excellent value with a long soft chocolate finish. Went nicely with tortilla wraps and ground beef, tomato, lettuce, grilled onions and green peppers, sour cream and salsa. There's sufficient tannin and acid to cellar for a couple of years but I'd plan initially for 12 months.
MANZONE DOLCETTO D'ALBA 'LA SERRA' 2003, Piedmont, Italy, 13.0%, #715680 $18.95 (Followup of the 2001 vintage)
Gord Stemmell rates at 90 describiing the 'La Serra' as "bright spicy licorice, cedar and black cherry fruit, a sturdy red..." Vintages says: "Purple/ruby colour with wonderful berry fruit aromas, plus fine cherry tones. It is dry, fresh, lively and edgy with a remarkably long finish. Have with wild mushroom risotto, stuffed veal tenderloin." Vintages release April 2, 2005. My note: An uninteresting nose with no herbs or fruit. Colour is as advertised but falls flat in flavour. Long tannic finish - perhaps will open in a year cellaring - but I'd pass - there's too many value reds to have this in the cellar.
SANTA RITA MERLOT RESERVA 2003, Maipo Valley, Chile, 13.5%, #375790 $12.95
LCBO comments: "Viña Santa Rita founder Don Domingo Fernández promoted the introduction of the French vine stocks to the region in the 1880s. Today, acclaimed winemaker Andrés Ilabaca displays the same commitment to quality and innovation with his Merlot Reserva." Vintages release April 16, 2005. Winemaker's comments: "Deep ruby red colour. Its aroma is a complex bouquet combining ripe black fruits, plum undertones and spice notes. On the palate is a strong wine with good concentration, with very ripe tannins that are almost sweet and well balanced. This wine has a persistant and pleasant finish. Cellar four to five years." My notes: Something between an old and a new world wine. Sniffable and sippable, soft as a merlot can be without giving up too much tannin and acid - ie. as advertised, 'well-balanced'. Pretty in the glass as well. Cellar but taste after two years to see how well it's doing - should be complex enough by then. Pairs well with most meats: beef, duck, lamb as long as not too spicy. Excellent value.
MARQUES DE RISCAL RIOJA RESERVA 2000, Rioja, Spain, 13.0%, #032656 $22.95
LCBO note: "Garnet red with brick edges; cedar, plum, anise, chocolate, sandalwood and earth on the nose with matching flavours; dry, medium-full-bodied with light tannins, and rounded fruit flavours; a long solid finish. Grilled red meats; prime rib roast; stews; pork roast; lamb chops." Grapes: Tempranillo: 90%, Graciano and Mazuelo: 10%. This is a General listing. The winery website says: "..... The reserva wines spend approximately two years in American oak barrels, forming a wine which adheres to the principles of a classic Rioja. Complex aroma of spices with a predominance of liquorice, while the oak remains discreet. Intense colour etc. ... subdued tannin and acid.... meanwhile soft on the finish,etc" My notes: A kinder Rioja. The nose is warm with light sandalwood and spices, the flavour is dry, full of figs and soft plum. A long finish and persistent tannin. Improves if opened thirty minutes ahead or decanted. Pairs nicely with grilled or roasted beef and stews for sure.... lamb and prime rib likely, roast pork is questionable.