Once again I found myself in my local liquor store wondering what to get for my Friday night meal. I’d been craving lamb ragù and gnocchi but I’m trying my best to keep things gluten free. I compromised with making a quick and dirty lamb ragù and some gluten free pasta shapes along with a bottle of red wine. I wanted to get a merlot because it pairs well with lamb usually but there were no merlots on the shelf for under $20. Not even in the Italian or French sections of the store! I’d recently tried and liked a Robert Mondavi Private Selection Central Coast Chardonnay so when I saw their Meritage on the shelf, I had to read the label. For those of you who don’t know what a Meritage wine is, it’s the USA’s answer to the Bordeaux of France. You can use the exact same grapes but because it’s not grown in the Bordeaux region you just can’t call it that. The grapes in a traditional blend are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and to a lesser extent Carménère. Each good in its own right but together as a whole creates something so much “more”. I decided to give this a shot and headed home to make my franken-ragù.
The Robert Mondavi Private Selection Central Coast 2011 Meritage wine comes in at 13.5% alcohol and I have no information on the residual sugars. Its blend percentages are as follows: 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 27% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. It was aged for 12 months in a combination of American and French oak. I chilled the wine to the optimal temperature of 60 – 65 degrees. We used generic stemless red wine glasses to drink from and we aerated it. My bottle and cork were in great shape. Upon opening the wine, it slowly released a black cherry aroma that was subtle but fragrant. I used about ¼ of a cup of this wine in my ragù.
Our first impression of the nose of the wine was of a moderate strength with a big aroma of black cherry and blackberry. It was honestly quite mouthwatering! The initial flavors were heavy blackberry and black cherry as the nose suggested but also black plum and baking spices. The tannins were very fine and well integrated. The finish was fairly long with the slightest hint of espresso and spices.
Paired with the lamb ragù, it enhanced the slightly gamey flavor of the lamb and made the mushrooms much more, well, mushroomy. Between bites the wine cleared the palette exceptionally well without being too acidic. It is certainly in the medium category for acid, but could easily be sipped alone if you aren’t going to pair it with food. The flavor between bites of ragù, however, was much spicier than just drinking the wine alone. There was a bit of black pepper hiding out in the mid palette as well.
As the wine opened up more, the nose became softer and sweeter. The spice and fruit were more equally matched now while eating the ragù, about 30 minutes into the wine’s development. The finish now had the addition of a little cedar.
For dessert we had a few squares of dark chocolate that had espresso in it. The equal balance of fruit and baking spices continued in the wine with the sweets but the finish became intensely vanilla. It also made the chocolate taste like a freshly made caramel macchiato.
Overall this wine is quite good for the $12 I paid for it. We’ve talked about how expensive my local wine place is so you can probably find it for $8 -$10 elsewhere which makes it an exceptional buy. While I think it paired well with the lamb, I think its best match would be a steak of some sort with traditional steakhouse sides. Full bodied cheeses would also pair well and obviously anything chocolate. On the standard Wine Spectator scale, I’d give this wine a solid 89 points because of the flavors, drinkability, and great varietal character from the blend. You can’t go wrong serving this one with your next dinner party where red meat is served, just make sure to chill and let the wine breathe properly before serving to showcase the best it has to offer!