Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the eleven best wines in that category for the year.

June 2003

Over the last twelve months, Wine & Spirits tasted 348 merlots.

The following 11 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all merlots tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is included with subscription copies.

94 I Pride $48
2000 Napa County 61%, Sonoma County 39% Merlot

Massive, serious and about as yummy as merlot can get, Pride's wine from vines straddling the top of Spring Mountain grows on either side of the Napa-Sonoma line. In 2000, it tastes like the fruit has been sculpted by hand, broad and smooth with the supple grit of pinpoint tannins. Those tannins need no more cushioning than the blueberry fruit, fully ripe rather than jammy, savory with flavor accents of fig compote and chocolate. The focus elevates it to a higher note in the finish, already primed for a roast partridge and chestnut stuffing. For those who choose to cellar it, this will only gain richness and depth. Pride Mountain Vineyards, St. Helena, CA

93 I Cosentino $38
2000 Napa Valley Reserve Merlot

Sunny and substantial, this wine has ripened to a red strawberry and darker woodland berry flavor while holding its gracious and smooth texture. It's generous, and keeps giving in a joyous expression of merlot, capturing the essence of the variety. Enjoy this on its own, or with something rich as beef Wellington. (1,500 cases) M. Cosentino, Yountville, CA

93 I Duckhorn $70
1999 Napa Valley Three Palms Vineyard Merlot

The surface is modern and polished: heavily toasted oak, robust fruit, supple and smooth. Underneath, the sheer scale of the wine betrays all that contemporary fashion. It's a bruiser (though the fruit is anything but bruised), firm and potent, with the flavor of grapes taken to a sweet ripeness, then fermented as dry as iron ore. This tense young wine shows one of Napa's classic up-valley vineyards back on track after replanting. (1,930 cases) Duckhorn Vyds., St. Helena, CA

93 I Robert Mondavi $40
2000 Stags Leap District Merlot

Solidly built with the dark fruit profile of Stags Leap, this presents a good match of place and variety to create a fine regional expression. It's soft and plump, the fruit held with restraint by tannins fine as pencil shavings. And there's a delicacy that shows through the solid weight of blackberry fruit. A merlot with stature, this will only grow more intriguing as it ages over the next eight to ten years. Robert Mondavi, Oakville, CA

93 I Sawyer $34
1999 Rutherford - Napa Valley Merlot

Architectural refinement lends a clarity to this merlot, the structure providing a frame for the firm, fresh flavors. They range from cherry to rhubarb, from earthiness to a spice as red and hot as andouille. The flavor detail marries into the supple texture, yielding to the touch, incorporating a hint of bitterness in the fine-grained tannin. Built to develop over the next six to eight years. (475 cases) Sawyer Cellars, Rutherford, CA

92 I Cakebread $45
1999 Napa Valley Merlot

A lovely, delicate strawberry scent introduces this fragrant merlot, its fruit fresh and floral as a rose. Under the clean surface, there are more exotic aspects developing, from roots, to humus, to an almost sanguine earthiness. The taste makes a lasting impression, balanced and gracious, ready for almost any food that goes with lighter red wines, from seared tuna to grilled lamb. (3,800 cases) Cakebread Cellars, Rutherford, CA

92 I Chateau Ste. Michelle $37
1999 Columbia Valley Reserve Merlot

The luxurious texture of this merlot is something the vine creates in the best sites of Columbia Valley a firm ripeness that coalesces in the tender touch of black, ferrous, grape-skin tannins. The texture forms the substrate for deep black cherry fruit, a dark-fleshed, round presence that remains simple in line. Then it closes with a grace note of boysenberry that lifts the finish. A gentle and stylish merlot. Chateau Ste. Michelle, Woodinville, WA

92 I Duckhorn $46
2000 Napa Valley Merlot

This potent merlot grew to a deep plum-skin ripeness, giving a lasting dark flavor and warmth. Still, the wine holds its freshness, providing detail to the fruit even as the espresso roast tannins grip it. Finely balanced, this should develop well. Cellar it for Christmas 2005 and a beef Wellington. Duckhorn Vineyards, St. Helena, CA

92 I Joseph Phelps $40
2000 Napa Valley Merlot

A fine expression of merlot: the lasting red berry fruit, the tender texture and soft, feminine grace. It not only tastes like merlot, it has some staying power. The sweet and tart strawberry flavor has a charry edge of tannin, a dusty cocoa grip that lingers with the tender fruit. This should grow up well. Joseph Phelps Vineyards, St. Helena, CA

92 I Pine Ridge $42
1999 Napa Valley - Carneros Estate Merlot

The fresh raspberry core of this wine augments a firm, clay-dust tannin, all held together with the cool of Carneros. Then on second taste, the finish extends, jammed with fruit, generous and potent. Even if that fruit magnifies one dimension for now, it should open to others as age brings development. Pine Ridge continues to grow some of the most promising merlot in Napa. Pine Ridge Winery, Napa, CA

92 I Turnbull $40
2000 Oakville Napa Valley Fortuna Vineyard Merlot

These grapes captured Oakville, the warmth of the summer sun and the deep, black-fruited flavors that give this wine as much a regional expression as a varietal one. If this presents itself more like its neighboring cabernets than merlot, there is still that plumpness, a touch of softness to take the edge off the lasting spice. And there's a sense of a fullness of flavor to come; a fine red of the region to cellar five or six years. (165 cases) Turnbull Wine Cellars, St. Helena, CA