The Trader Joe’s Reserve Monterey Meritage Lot 168 2014 is a $9.99 Trader Joe’s exclusive sourced from grapes grown in the Monterey County AVA which is located north of Paso Robles and up to the Monterey Bay inside the Central Coast AVA of California. A Meritage wine is a Red blend that uses the grapes approved to be used in Bordeaux wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenere, though in Bordeaux they usually only add 1% or 2% of Petite Verdot to the blend and Malbec and Carmenere are seldom used), there is a Meritage wine association and members pay a fee. Trader Joe’s says this wine originally sold for “upwards of $20 in other stores” and I believe them since this blend was aged in oak barrels for 18 months. When you age a wine in oak for a year and a half it takes at least another 1 1/2 years of aging in the bottle for the wine to calm down and the flavors mix seamlessly together. Wines that need 3 years of aging do not sell of $9.99, under normal circumstances. TJ’s does not mention which grapes were used in the blend and since there are only 6 possible choices that omission is interesting. In Bordeaux, depending which side of the river the vineyards are located the blend is either predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot second or Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon second, and then a dash of Cabernet Franc and maybe some of the other grapes or maybe not. In California the blends are not that regimented, grapes that are not leading characters in the French stuff can have leading roles in the California version. Maybe, and I am guessing, if we knew the blend we could easily guess the original producer and they and Trader Joe’s really don’t want us to know. Monterey is in the Central Coast and the Central Coast is generally warmer than AVA’s such as Napa or Sonoma, but the Monterey growing areas are near the coast and do very well with cool weather grapes such as Pinot Noir, but there are locations that are suitable for Bordeaux varietals. The alcohol content is a ripe 14.2%.
The color is a dark, but still see-thru raspberry jelly red with some black highlights. The nose is interesting, dark berries, slightly vegetal, a bit of spice, a dash of pepper, bitter dark chocolate, there is oak barrel aromas here that only come from wine aged for a long time in oak, this is not your usual 10 dollar Red wine. This is a medium to full-bodied wine with a smooth, plush mouth feel. It tastes of blackberry, faint olive, oak spice, licorice, and ripe plum. The mid-palate traditions to candy bar chocolate, sour cherry, black pepper and orange zest. The tannins are soft and do not bite, the acidity is balanced, it gives the wine length but does not go overboard. The finish is full and long.
What’s there not to like?, this is a Red blend aged for at least 3 years selling for a price typical of wines aged in mostly used oak for 3 to 6 months. The Trader Joe’s Reserve Monterey Meritage Lot 168 2014 will appeal for those who like there Cabs slightly vegetal, not overpowering, but the aromas and flavor is there. Actually as the bottle opens up the fruit starts to come forward and the rich fruit, with a bit of green flavors add a good bit of interest to the overall blend. Buying a $20 wine for $9.99 is always a good bet, today, producers have done an excellent job of putting oak barrel flavors into value priced wine, but the one thing they can’t replicate is what time and aging do to a bottle of wine. Yeah, 3 years plus isn’t super long by Red wine standards, but it is long enough to get those textures and flavors only time can impart. The Meritage Lot 168 is a pretty good bottle of wine and the $9.99 price tag makes it a home run.