Fazeli Cellars 2015 Meritage

Winery: Fazeli Cellars
Product/Varietal: Meritage (Bordeaux blend)
Vintage: 2015
AVA on Bottle: Temecula Valley

Rating: 92

How They Describe It

65% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec

Blackberry & raspberry fruit are complemented by hints of vanilla, anise & allspice.

How I Describe It

Appearance
The 2015 Meritage shows as a darkened medium ruby red, typical of Bordeaux blends. With four years of aging, I expected to see a little garnet (i.e., a slight orange hue normally found in aged wines), but the wine has kept very well.

Nose
Ripe red cherry, strawberry, and raspberry are prominent. Alcohol is somewhat noticeable on the nose, which is unsurprising given the 14% ABV.

There are distinct notes of capsicum (green bell pepper), grass, eucalyptus, and white pepper, along with hints of anise, rose, and wet stone. The latter few are representative of Temecula’s unique terroir — warm, dry weather, decomposed granite soil, and vines growing near eucalyptus trees, licorice, and mustard plants.

Elements of oak aging show through with subtle hints of charred wood and nutmeg.

Palate
Fazeli Cellars 2015 Meritage is a dry wine with high acid and high alcohol. Abrasive tannins are completely absent, giving the 2015 Meritage a silky, smooth mouthfeel and showcasing the quality of Fazeli’s fruit. This combination makes the wine surprisingly crisp and refreshing for having such a full body.

When poured right after opening the bottle, tart cherry and raspberry show strongly. As the wine breathes (about an hour), elements of red plum begin to manifest.

As with the aroma, there is a green bell pepper flavor commonly found in warm climate Bordeaux varietals. I also tasted a slight herbal or medicinal quality, reminiscent of eucalyptus tea.

I detected minimal notes of barrel aging — possibly either a short time in the barrel, or a longer stay in neutral (i.e., previously used) oak — though spices like white pepper, clove, and nutmeg are present.

Why is This Wine Special?

Meritage is a portmanteau of “merit” and “heritage” which American winemakers created in the 1980’s for Bordeaux blends produced outside of the Bordeaux appellation in France — like using “sparkling wine” or “methode traditionnelle” instead of Champagne. While there are White Meritage wines, if you see the word on a red wine bottle, it should only contains varietals native to Bordeaux: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and/or Carmenère.

This is an outstanding representation of a “Right Bank” Bordeaux. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend comparing it to a bottle of Saint Émilion. Both are Merlot-heavy and tend to showcase similar layers of flavors and aromas. Unlike their “Left Bank” cousins, which feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the lead varietal, Bordeaux wines from the Right Bank tend to be softer, mellower, and easier to drink.

The 2015 Meritage is definitely ageworthy. The lack of garnet indicates there is plenty of maturation left, should the bottle sit a few years. That said, it’s delicious now. The softness of the tannins allow the fruit quality to shine through.

In the New World (e.g., California, Oregon, New Zealand, etc.) single varietal wines are much more popular than blends. In the Old World (e.g., Bordeaux, Rhône, etc.), though, blends are the norm, often proprietary mixtures of the few varietals allowed in the appellation. The best of those blends can often go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Fazeli Cellars 2015 Meritage taps into the Old World style of winemaking, and does a damn fine job of it.

There are pros and cons choosing to create a blended wine versus a single varietal wine. On one hand, adds another layer of artistry from the winemaker, blending the flavors of many different grapes to produce a one-of-a-kind wine. On the other, blending can also be used as a way to mask flaws or shortcomings from a single varietal (though I don’t think this is the case with Fazeli).

In full disclosure, my wife and I are wine club members at Fazeli Cellars. One thing we love about the location is how accessible the owner is. Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli built the winery and vineyards as a passion project, after a successful career in direct response marketing. In addition to a number of single varietal wines, BJ created one of the most voluminous portfolios of blends in Temecula Valley. Interestingly, each year Fazeli tweaks the mixture in the blend, making each vintage unique.

Fazeli Cellars often pays homage to his family’s Persian roots. Many of his wines are named after Farsi words or famous poets, like Baba Joon (father), Khayyam, Saadi, Shirin (sweet), and Yalda (winter solstice). The winery’s “benchmark” grape is Shiraz (i.e., Syrah), for its supposed ties to Ancient Persia. I will rate a Syrah-based wine of Fazeli’s in a future post.

Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc are inherently challenging to grow in Temecula Valley, since the climate differs so substantially from their native terroir. Bordeaux tends to be cool and moist, which Temecula Valley is warmer and drier. Nevertheless, Fazeli Cellars does an incredible job making these grapes work for their wines.

When & How I Would Drink It

Though they pair well with dishes featuring animal proteins, Merlot-heavy Bordeaux and Meritage wines are less abrasively tannic than their Cabernet-heavy cousins. As a result, they tend to pair better with leaning meats, like pork, turkey, chicken, or duck. Of course, I’m an avid carnivore, and enjoy just about any red wine with a nice steak.

Personally, I would save this wine for a romantic evening with someone you care about. It’s an interesting enough wine to be conversation piece, but smooth enough that it won’t overpower the occasion.

How to Get It

Order Online: http://shop.fazelicellars.com/prod-389779/2014-Meritage.html
(Note: When this entry was published, Fazeli Cellars was only selling their 2014 vintage online, which is a slightly different blend of Bordeaux varietals)

Bottle Price: $45 ($36 for wine club members)

Cases Produced: unknown

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