The Cheers/Beverage Dynamics National Wine Panel recommends a lineup of top quality/value merlots

The Cheers/Beverage Dynamics National Wine Panel recommends a lineup of top quality/value merlots – Wine Selections

Since the beginning of this year, Cheers has inaugurated a joint Cheers/Beverage Dynamics National Wine Panel, a distinguished group of restaurant and hotel beverage professionals, including sommeliers, beverage directors and wine managers along with wine buyers and sellers at America’s best-known retail wine stores.

Grouped each month by varietal, the selections include notes compiled from the many selections made by our panelists. (A list of those participating can be found at the end of the section listing.) These selections include brief tasting notes compiled from our panel, a star and numerical rating and the wine’s suggested retail price (which varies from market to market.)

For this wine tasting, we asked the panel to select a lineup of recently tasted merlots, a varietal wine whose rich fruit and soft texture has propelled it into becoming one of the red wines of choice for American consumers.

If you’re a beverage professional who would like to learn more about participating in our panel, call Jack Robertiello at 718-857-3660, or email him at jrobertiello@aip.com.

FIVE STARS

***** 95 APEX 1999 Merlot (Washington State). An extremely dark color and expressive nose of ripe blackberries and cassis lightly covered with a melange of oak spices; reminiscent of a top flight Grand Cm St. Emilion, this wonderfully complex wine is crammed with red and black cherries, Asian spices, and dark chocolate, with hints of toast and vanilla; perfect with pan seared duck breast. $33

***** 95 Grgich Hills 1999 Merlot (California). Prominent aromas of black cherry, cocoa, and sweet oak with floral notes; rich and full-bodied on the palate with loads of complex berry fruit and plum flavors; balanced acidity with enough soft tannin to give the wine cabernet-like structure; a real long finish. $36

***** 95 1998 Falesco Montiano (Italy). The flagship from Falesco, this 100% barrel-aged merlot has a nose of licorice, currants and blackberries; with a medium body, this wine is drinking beautifully now and will for another 10 to 15 years. $60

***** 95 Luis Felipe Edwards 2000 Gran Reserva Merlot (Chile). A full-bodied wine with silky, ripe berry fruit and an elegant, distinguished finish; a great match with salmon, white meats or grilled red meats. $12

***** 95 Lewis Cellars 2000 Napa Valley Merlot (California). The wine shows a large assortment of cedar, clove, black cherry and sweet tobacco aromas; it has a finely tuned texture and is framed by soft tannins; the fruit is quite forward and ripe with a mixture of sweet black fruit and wonderful earthy tones; this wine is supple, yet very serious. $50

***** 94 Verite “La Muse” Sonoma 1999 Merlot (California). Fusion of France and California merlot-based proprietary blend which exhibits right bank Bordeaux qualities and elegance with modern California fruit; superb. $80

***** 94 Chateau Ste. Michelle 1999 Reserve Merlot (Washington State). Loaded with fruit flavors of cherry, blackberries, complemented with nutmeg spice; very well-balanced with soft tannins and a lovely long finish. $33

***** 94 Shafer 2000 Napa Valley Merlot (California). This is a monster wine; hugely rich and filled with a ripe, sweet mouth-feel; packed with tons of dark berries and chocolate flavors; a fabulous merlot with a gorgeous overlay of smoky oak; the edges are rounded nicely and the texture makes it a crowd-pleaser. $40

***** 94 Marquis-Philips 2001 Merlot (Australia). This is a big, bold sweet wine with flavors of vanilla, chocolate and black cherry; you can almost chew this thick, juicy merlot; an excellent value. $20

***** 94 Clos du Bois 2000 Reserve Merlot (California). A bold, topnotch merlot; big fruit and full-bodied; lots of oakiness; ripe cherry flavor with all kinds of berry tastes. ($20)

***** 93 Tamarack Cellars 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot (Washington State). Medium ruby/purple, with a dark, smoky bouquet of ripe blackberries laced with cocoa; on the palate it is quite soft, with a chocolate cloak to the rich, dark cherry flavors; ample tannin makes for excellent balance, and the finish is long and succulent; delicious. $20

***** 93 Gordon Bros. 1999 Merlot (Washington State). This gem offers wonderfully rich coffee and berry fruit flavors married seamlessly with hints of toffee and sweet, toasty new oak; the creamy texture, sweet, ripe fruit and lusciousness make for a delicious glass of wine, with a rich explosive finish; matches equally well with hard cheeses or grilled rib eye with red onion relish. $26

***** 93 2000 Chateau La Fleur Plaisance, Montagne Saint-Emilion (France). At 80% merlot, this Bordeaux shouts its varietal from the hilltops; soft and silky, with a robe of ripe red and black plum flavors, there’s little or no tannin, a touch of oak and a seamless texture from start to finish. $16

***** 92 Elderton Barossa 1999 Merlot (Australia). Purple color; taste of plums,, cassis and spice; substantial tannins and a long finish. $29

***** 92 Swanson Vineyards 1999 Merlot (California). A wonderful representation of the great ’99 vintage; complex aromas of cherry, black olive and plums while maintaining soft, ripe tannins. $27

***** 92 Fisher RCF 2000 Merlot (California). Deep black and blue fruit with spice notes; blackberry, raspberry flavors that are deep and searing; significant tannin structure that will bode well for cellaring 3-5 years; not a fruity/watery merlot; this wine is for people that like cabernet. $47

***** 92 Coppola Diamond Series 2000 Merlot (California). A top-seller with consistent quality; intense plum and berry flavors with a touch of spice. $17

***** 92 Martin Ray Winery Manage 2000 Merlot 2000 (California). Sweet black cherries and blackberries are found in the aromatics of this medium-colored merlot; medium- to full-bodied with good structure, this is an intensely flavorful cassis- and boysenberry-flavored wine; extremely well-made and seamless; perfect for grilled filet mignon. $22

***** 92 Michael Pozzan 1999 Special Reserve Merlot (California). An interesting, off-the-beaten-path wine; lots of spice and very versatile; a wonderful hearty food wine. $18

***** 92 20000 Chateau Picampeau, Lussac Saint-Emilion (France). We might be stretching things a bit at only 65% Merlot, but it’s the taste that counts; a succulent, ripe and plummy Bordeaux, reaping every benefit the ’00 vintage had to offer; black currants, plums and creme de cassis flavors join soft tannins and gentle oak notes in an appealing and thoroughly drinkable merlot-based red. $15

***** 92 Murphy-Goode 2000 Merlot (California). An elegant cellar wine, featuring dark chocolate and cherry; expansive mouthfeel; a long finish. $16

***** 92 2001 Falesco Merlot del-l’Umbria (Italy). Deep purple color with a big nose of black cherries, vanilla and a hint of mocha; medium- to full-bodied, this wine shows very ripe fruit with excellent balance; drink over the next 4-5 years. $17

***** 92 Beringer 1999 Merlot (California). Aromas and flavors of cedar, spice, ripe plum, blackberry and cherry; a full mouthfeel and soft oak makes this a wine to enjoy now and for two to three years to come. $23

***** 92 BV 1999 Napa Merlot (California). Deep ruby color; ripe cherry-plum scents with subtle herb, earth and chocolate aromas; medium- to full-bodied on the palate, with sweet, rich dark cherry flavors; a touch of earthiness adds to the finish. $18

***** 92 Rock River 2000 Merlot (California). Should be called Rocket River, with its explosive blast of flavor; everything’s up front and approachable; ripe black plums, raspberry, chocolate, mocha and cherry; French oak lurks in the lengthy shadows created by this giant; good value. $13

***** 92 Cakebread 1999 Merlot (California). Intense and forward, has strong currant and anise tones; a great bottle of wine. $38

FOUR STARS

**** 91 Pine Ridge Crimson Creek 1999 Merlot (California). Ruby red in color with elegant tannins; flavors of black cherry and blueberry with hints of vanillin oak and chocolate. $25

**** 91 Livio Felluga “Sosso” Friuli 1998 (Italy). Fermented and aged in barriques, this Italian merlot is a bit drier than California-style merlot; very elegant with hints of spice and very smooth tannins. $45

**** 91 Niebaum-Coppola Rutherford 1999 Merlot (California). Rich and developed with complex flavors of currant, sage and berry. $40

**** 91 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County 1999 Merlot (California). Plum and coffee aromas; pleasing plum and cherry flavors; nice tannins and a long finish. $25

**** 91 McManis 2001 Merlot (California). A relatively new winery, with vineyards just south of Lodi, many of which fall into their own appellation, River Junction; this is a lovely merlot, packed with ripe black berry flavors, chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla and more than a hint of genuine complexity; it tastes expensive, but it’s not. $15

**** 91 2000 Chateau Garderose Montagne Saint-Emilion (France). Layers of rich wildberry, cherry and spice that linger on the finish; a well put together merlot that borders on being a classic. $17

**** (91) Simi 1999 Alexander Valley Merlot (California). Packed with plum and black cherry with loads of exotic spices and vanilla oak on the finish; medium- to full-bodied; soft tannins make this wine a match for duck, beef, summer squash and black beans. $20

**** 90 Truchard 1999 Merlot (California). The fram-boise-cassis nose jumps from the glass; this dense, medium- to full-bodied wine has layers of bright, black fruits, vanilla and minerals that go on and on; well knit. $60

**** 90 Sterling Vintner’s Collection 2000 Merlot (California). Dark color with concentrated aromas of ripe plums and lightly toasted black cherry; flavors of red jam, dark chocolate, vanilla and mint; soft tannins on the finish; a real winner. $14

**** 90 Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge 1999 Merlot (Washington State). Flavors and aromas of coffee, cinnamon and blueberry with hints of spice on the finish; firm tannins. $25

**** 90 Judd’s Hill 1997 Napa Valley Summer’s Ranch Merlot (California). Medium purple with a slight orange edge that speaks of its age; the bouquet is mild, with an earthy edge that shows a whiff of truffles; full-bodied and rich on the palate, it still shows firm tannin lingering in the background, with ripe cherry, blackberry, raspberry and anise flavors; good balancing acidity, and a long finish. $44

**** 90 Bernard Griffin 2000 Merlot (Washington State). Herbal and tobacco notes intermixed in rich black cherry and blackberry fruit aromas; full-bodied on the palate with rich fruit flavors and hints of pepper toward the close; relatively high acid notes and noted tannin on the long close; good wine for beef or game. $16

**** 88 Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat 2001 Merlot (Australia). Full-flavored with vibrant, plummy fruit and a long, rich finish; drink now with pasta and red sauce, barbecue and soft cheeses; a wonderful value. $7

**** 90 Concha y Toro Marques des Casa Concha 1999 Merlot (Chile). Almost deep opaque in color with the seductive scents of blackberry and spice; in the mouth the wine is rich and palate coating with a firm backbone, solid core and a long finish; a stunning wine. $14

**** 90 Castle Rock Napa 2000 Merlot (California). Loads of black pepper, spice, blackberry fruit, and a long finish; a merlot with lots of stuffing. $10

**** 90 Nelms Road 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot (Washington State). This wine is the offshoot from the famed Washington State winery Woodward Canyon; big, bold and chunky with a solid foundation that benefits from extended aeration to reveal its excellence and depth and a finish that is wonderful now and will continue to evolve. $20

**** 90 McCray Ridge 1999 Merlot (California). Deep garnet color with blackberry, currant nose; taste of blackberry, ripe plum, Asian spice; well-balanced with solid mid-palate and lingering finish. $31

**** 90 Montes 2001 Reserve, Colchagua Valley, Special Cuvee Merlot (Chile). Possesses a medium garner/ruby color and bright fruit aromas of fresh cherries; initially dry on the palate, it quickly softens up, revealing mild cherry and raspberry flavors with good backing tannin; a very good value. $10.50

**** 90 Benziger 1999 Sonoma Merlot (California). A well-structured wine with layers of flavors — from valley floors, benchland and hillside vineyards — with nuances of cherry and black fruit; soft tannins and vanillin spice on the finish. $16

**** 90 Seven Hills 2000 Merlot (Washington State). Dark brick red with a touch of purple; nose of bacon, vanilla and dry fig; the palate has chocolate, coffee, white peppel blackberry with sweet tannin followed by a ripe cherry finish. $28

**** 90 1998 Trilogie du Saint George, St. Emilion (France). A red velvet color, almost a light maroon; the nose shows alcohol with a background of fruit; tannins are upfront and aggressive, fruits are mature, bold and strong; a hint of baked blackberry pie, but not sweet; a muscular wine with strength mixed with a subtle elegance. $32

**** 89 Paloma 2000 Merlot (California). Inviting black fruit and cherry notes on the nose with chocolate and spice; flavors of blackberry, anise and cherry; diminishes slightly in the finish. $40

**** 89 Cuvaison Napa 1999 Merlot (California). Flavors of cherry, mocha and plum dominate this well-made merlot; perfect with grilled fish, veal saltimbocca and lamb shank. $29

**** 89 Havens 1999 Merlot (California). Nicely balanced with good structure; 10% cabernet franc adds some spice; a fruit-forward wine making it ready for drinking now. $21

**** 89 Clos la Chance 2000 Central Coast Merlot (California). Flavors of cherry, chocolate and graham cracker; medium-bodied; velvety and supple; great match for pork dishes. $20

**** 89 Chateau Ste. Michelle 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot (Washington State). An impressive wine that smells of mocha, raspberries, plum and cedar; vanilla and bing cherries explode across the palate; a soft mouthfeel and gentle tannins. $16

**** 89 2000 Chateau Hostens-Picant, Ste-Foy (France). Made in the small right-bank satellite town of Ste.-Foy, this Merlot-based Bordeaux delivers a nice balance of fruit, tannins and acids in unison; well-made wine, at an exceptionally fine price. $15

**** 89 Artiste de France Merlot 2001 (France). Fresh and agreeable and better than most “house” pours, this merlot is clean, well-structured and loaded with blueberry/black currant flavors and notes of vanilla and spicy cedar on the back end. $9

**** 88 Wild Horse Paso Robles 2000 Merlot (California). Notes of cherries, tobacco and plums layered with a creamy oak mouthfeel throughout your glass; a great match with chicken in a balsamic brown gravy, swordfish and rack of lamb. $20

**** 88 St. Martin Reserve 2001 Merlot (France). Remarkable quality and consistency from the south of France in an under-$10 merlot; plenty to like with a core of ripe plum and juicy bits of blackberry around the edges; fruit is nicely integrated as it reveals a truly well made wine that could fool most discriminating palates into thinking it costs twice as much. $9

**** 88 EOS 2000 Merlot 2000 (California). Plum and dried fruit aromas with notes of blackberries and raspberries in the very forward nose; soft and gentle on the palate with nuances of pepper and tea flavors along with good fruit definitions; soft and flowing but balanced acidity and very soft tannins. $17

**** 88 Chateau Chevre 1998 Merlot (California). A rich merlot with chocolate and black cherry flavors throughout; black currant with a hint of spice on the finish. $22

**** 88 Snoqualmie 1998 Columbia Valley Merlot (Washington State). Very big fruit, blueberry in particular; medium-bodied and smooth; a nice red wine introduction; match with grilled fish. $11

**** 88 Domaine St. George 2000 STG Merlot (California). The STG line is a pleasant surprise; not only are they well made and of high quality but they are outrageous values; a deftly crafted wine that is plump and juicy with just the right amount of oaky nuances; displays what can be done when careful attention is paid in both cellar and vineyard. $12

**** 88 Castle Rock 2000 Merlot (California), Dense ruby color accompanies aromas of vanilla and spice; flavors of raspberry, mocha and a slight herbal character are finished with a clean, medium acid finish; matches well with food. $10

**** 88 1999 J. Kirkwood Merlot (California). Medium to full-bodied, this wine opens with a nose of coffee, chocolate and cherries; the rich fruit marries well together with the oak; a plush, ripe wine that will age for up to 10 years. $33

**** 88 Gerard Bertrand 2000 Merlot yin de Pays D’oc (France). Ripe and focused blackberry and anise flavors that finish with subtle oak; nicely balanced to make an excellent food wine at an affordable price. $13

**** 88 Robert Pecota 1997 Napa Valley Merlot (California). Pink salmon/red cherry color; sweet meats, smoked tobacco and vanilla in the nose; dry bitter chocolate, young raspberry, Asian spice, tea, anise; finished with dry tannin. ($30)

**** 87 Concha y Toro 2000 Marques de Casa Merlot (Chile). Wonderfully smooth and easy with flavors of plum and cherries; some smokiness; drinks well alone or with food. $14

**** 88 St. Francis 2000 Sonoma Merlot (California). One can feel confident with the wines from St. Francis; there’s no mistaking this distinct style; lush and clean, medium-bodied and flexible with food. $15

**** 87 Les Jamelles 2001 Merlot (France). Medium-bodied and slightly spicy; features good black fruits; a good table wine. $6

**** 87 Ironstone 2000 Merlot (California). Nice plum and currant flavors with just a hint of oak; finishes with smooth, velvety tannins for balance. $11

**** 87 Caliterra 2000 Arboleda Merlot (Chile). A full-bodied merlot with concentrated dark fruit; smooth with soft tannins; serve with grilled meats. $16

**** 86 Wolfer 1999 Reserve Merlot (New York). Toasty vanilla, cherry nose; the wine is medium-bodied, and nicely balanced with tannins and acidity; big cherry fruit and an undertone of dill and vanilla on the palate; good length, very enjoyable. $40

**** 86 Vina Errazuriz 2000 Merlot (Chile). Dark berries and vanilla, smokey and plummy; a smooth merlot with a rich finish; serve with roasted chicken. $13

THREE STARS

*** 85 Robert Mondavi 2000 Private Selection Central Coast Merlot (California). Good color with a fruity nose; medium-bodied with hints of berry and spice; some oak on the finish; a good picnic wine. $13

*** 85 Danzante Della Sicilia 2000 Merlot (Italy). Violet-red in color with aromas of black currants, blueberries and soft spices on the finish; good everyday wine. $8

*** 85 Coopers Legacy 1999 Merlot (California). Soft, ruby-colored merlot with earthy tannins; spicy blackberry aromas jump from this medium-weight merlot. $19

*** 85 Glass Mountain 1999 Merlot (California). A good value and affordable for your everyday enjoyment; cedar and vanilla on the nose followed by flavors of ripe cherries; a good match with burgers, pasta dishes, grilled chicken and semi-hard cheeses. $9

*** 85 Glen Ellen 2000 Reserve Merlot (California). Very forward and rich cherry and boysenberry fruit aromas with a hint of a medicinal

bouquet; medium-bodied with very soft tannin; good cocktail reception wine and a best buy for that use. $7

*** 85 Ctystal Valley Cellars Reserve 2000 Cosentino (California). Classic California merlot; soft, velvety finish with a touch of oak; nice cedar and black fruit; well-crafted merlot for everyday drinking. $14 Cosentino Winery

*** 85 Leaping Lizard 2000 Merlot (California). A full-flavored merlot that shows supple fruit with a soft mouth-feel; a crowd-pleaser. $11

*** 85 Blackstone 2000 California Merlot (California). Fruity aroma; simple plum and cassis flavor; moderate tannins; a good buy. $9

*** 85 Stony Hollow Merlot 2001 (Chile). Soft, light merlot with flavors of ripe berries, mint and clover; easy tannins and a clean finish make this an excellent entry level merlot. $6

RATING SYSTEM

***** Five Stars (92-100)

A top-flight wine. Superior in taste and character and providing an outstanding price/value relationship.

**** Four Stars (86-91)

A very good wine and an excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.

*** Three Stars (80-85)

An above-average wine, at a reasonable price point, which many customers will enjoy.

** Two Stars (70-79)

An average wine.

* One Star (50-69)

A below-average wine.

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