Meritage Reds 

Meritage (it rhymes with "heritage"): a trademarked name coined by California winemakers to describe a Bordeaux style blend made in America. Only those who join the association and agree to stick with the classic Bordeaux grapes--Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot for reds--are allowed to label their wines Meritage. For this tasting, we also featured a number of wineries that make beautiful blends, but haven't jumped on the Meritage bandwagon, including wines from outside California. Here are the top picks in what was a very, very close race.

2002 Andrew Will, Sheridan Vineyard, $47.50

This Washington state winery, named for winemaker/owner Chris Camarda's nephew (Andrew) and son (Will), ranks as one of the best in the Northwest. The fruit from the Sheridan vineyard in Yakima produced a wine with lovely lilac, lavender, currant and dark berry aromas. It's a silky wine with creamy cherry and berry flavors backed by ripe tannins on the long finish. The blend includes all but one of the Meritage grapes (no Malbec) and should get even better with a few years in the bottle.

2000 Estancia Meritage, Alexander Valley, $27.50

This blend of Cabernet and Merlot always ranks near the top of the Meritage heap, and the 2000 vintage is no exception. Very Bordeaux-like aromas of cedar, tobacco, graphite and leather add interest to the nicely focused berry fruit on the nose. In the mouth it's all black currant and juicy cherry fruit with very soft and smooth tannins. A very well structured wine with impeccable balance that's exceptionally drinkable now.

2001 Murphy-Goode Wild Card, $17.99

The relative bargain opens with soft vanilla, sweet oak and ripe raspberry aromas. Ample oak in the mouth, but it's well integrated and nicely matched by the dark berry fruit and creamy cassis flavors. Shows subtle tannins with a touch of spice that linger on the long, smooth finish. A crowd-pleasing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. :

This week's panel: Jeff Crockett, Idaho Wine Merchant; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Christian Robertson, Boise Co-op; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Steve Thies, Tastevin.

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