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Feb-Mar 2001

88 Kenwood 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
A beautiful wine with forward black cherry and crab apple fruit, supple tannins, a hint of straw and black olive. Silky smooth and superbly balanced, it’s ready to drink now.

88 Sagelands Winery 1998, Columbia Valley, Merlot
Lush cassis with cinnamon, allspice and herbal notes, a bit of toast, and medium tannin that will take 2 to 3 years to resolve. Excellent potential.

88 Rodney Strong 1997, Alexander Valley, Northern Sonoma, Merlot
While ostensibly a Merlot, this is in reality a Bordeaux-style blend of 78% Merlot with 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. It has the lush black cherry fruit of Merlot, coupled with the cassis character and firm yet soft tannins from the Cabernet, some toasty oak, and a short, drying, toasty finish. Pairs well with grilled meats. Excellent potential for further aging.

87 Clos du Bois 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
While some wineries seem intent on pushing the envelope, Clos du Bois is content to concentrate on balance and elegance. This Merlot is a good case in point. It is both approachable and complex. Lush cherry-berry fruit, light toast and soft tannin coupled with faint green tea and oak notes gives this wine its broad appeal, and makes it an easy wine to uncork when entertaining and at family get togethers.

87 Rodney Strong 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
The amazing thing is that over 1 million bottles were produced of this very good Merlot. It has a blackberry - black cherry nose that gains intensity on the palate. Moderate tannin, firm structure and mouthwatering fruit on the mid-palate and finish.

87 St. Súpery 1998, Napa Valley, Merlot
Rich and extracted, this Merlot has both lush black cherry fruit, and cedar-mint spice. Long warm finish. A bit angular at the moment, it has the potential to bring it all together with another couple years in the bottle.

87 St. Francis 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
An interesting oddball, this vintage is very different from previous versions. The nose has elements of strawberry, pear, leather, mushroom and cedar. On the palate all of those elements combine and concentrate. The tannin is soft, the structure firm. Interesting, if atypical.

85 Jade Mountain 1998 Caldwell Vineyard, Napa Valley, Merlot
Black cherry and walnuts, and a bit of bittersweet chocolate. Moderate tannin, lots of spice in the warm finish. A bit angular (it could use another year or two in the bottle) but it has good potential.

85 Forest Glen 1999, California, Merlot
You can pay more, but Forest Glen’s Merlot delivers a lot for the money. Black cherry fruit, supple tannins and some subtle oak notes.

Feb-Mar 2001

85 Pine Ridge 1998, Carneros Napa Valley, Merlot
Full cherry fruit, but the tannin is somewhat bitter and obtrusive. Has potential, but it will take 7 to 10 years to begin to realize it.

85 Echelon 1999, California, Merlot
On the first pass I dismissed this wine as simple. But on subsequent reflection and review the quality of the fruit came to the fore. It has lush berry fruit with an herbal background and while not terribly complex, it is nicely structured and a good match for a wide variety of foods. Value priced.

85 Bonterra Vineyards 1997, Mendocino County Organically Grown Grapes, Merlot
Bonterra’s wines are subtle, but nonetheless complex. This Merlot is firmly structured, showing moderate tannin, dried berry and distinctive earth/mineral notes.

84 Callaway Coastal 1998, California, Reserve Merlot
A Merlot with some muscle – angular, herbal, with silky texture, dried cherry fruit, medium body and a tart finish.

84 Quail Creek 1999, California, Merlot
Big, blocky, dark berry flavors, red licorice, moderate tannin, full-body and a long fruit and cinnamon finish. Good intensity of fruit, though only vaguely varietal.

84 Coastal Ridge 1998, California, Merlot
Black cherry dominates the nose, with the addition of milk-chocolate on the palate. A hint of residual sugar lifts the fruit without being cloying. Excellent value at

83 Stags’ Leap Winery 1998, Napa Valley, Merlot
Tarry, herbal, smooth on the mid-palate despite bitter tannins in the finish. Has potential, but it needs at least 5 years more in the bottle.

83 Salmon Harbor 1999, Washington, Merlot
Dry, tart berry fruit, with green olive overtones, light tannin, tart finish. Decent for the money.

Aug-Sept 2000

89 Shafer 1997, Napa Valley, Merlot
Powerful and spicy, like cherry-berry fruit sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, yet soft and silky on the palate. A pleasure for both novice and connoisseur.

89 Pine Ridge 1997, Carneros Napa Valley, Merlot
Lovely and lush with bright black cherry fruit, superb structure and fuzzy tannins that will take about 3 years to resolve. $42

81 Robert Mondavi Winery 1997, Napa Valley, Merlot
Not one of Mondavi’s best efforts, this is a surprisingly blocky, tight wine, dry with fuzzy tannins. The finish is long and enticing, with dried cherry and vanilla notes, suggesting the wine might have potential, but for now it’s merely a mediocre offering.

Dec-Jan 2001

94 Dry Creek Vineyard 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
Dry Creek’s Merlot is like none other; it’s more intense and complex than any other on the market. It’s made up of layers of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate, vanilla creme, cinnamon and toast. It has medium tannin and a lengthy finish with smoke and spice accents. Buy a case and parcel them out over the next decade.

93 Robert Mondavi Winery 1997, Carneros Napa Valley, unfiltered Merlot
Enticing nose of black cherries and vanilla, dry, medium bodied and supple, with moderate tannin, and complex herbal undercurrents. Perfectly drinkable now with red meat or tomato based sauces, it will continue to improve over the next decade.

90 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1997, Napa Valley, Merlot
Dark chocolate and toast over blackberry fruit, medium tannin and a drying finish. Needs a few years to resolve the tannins.

89 Seven Peaks 1998, Central Coast, Merlot
Rich black cherry fruit, supple on the mid-palate with moderate tannin, subtle oak spice, and good length.

89 Chateau St. Jean 1998, Sonoma County, Merlot
Dark chocolate, toast and light oak spice intertwined with juicy black cherry fruit; medium, well-integrated tannin; nicely balanced and long. This is a well-made wine, good now, with some staying power.

89 Forest Glen 1998, California, Merlot
Reminiscent of pipe tobacco – sweet, aromatic, perfumy, black cherry and black currant fruit, moderate tannin, and a surprisingly long finish that’s full of fruit and subtle spice. A real bargain.

88 Nickel & Nickel 1997, Suscol Ranch Napa Valley, Merlot
Blackberry-currant nose, medium bodied with firm, well-integrated tannin on the palate, and a long, lightly spicy finish. Very fine structure and balance.

88 Mirassou 1997, Monterey County Harvest Reserve, Merlot
Black cherry fruit, nutmeg, toast, moderate tannin and a chewy, toasty finish.

87 Van Asperen Vineyards 1997, Napa Valley, Merlot
A delicious Merlot – deep cherry fruit, a thin thread of chocolate, and cinnamon accents, along with moderate tannin, make this Merlot easy drinking now.

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