Sterling Vineyards has a long wine making history, for California standards, founded in 1964 by British international paper broker and Financial Times writer Peter Newton. Like many Europeans, Newton discovered that the climate and soil of America’s west coast had great potential for making fine wine, so he bought an established 50-acre parcel outside Calistoga. Through the end of the 1960’s, Sterling Vineyards continued to acquire property in the Napa and Sonoma area, eventually bottling California’s first vintage dated Merlot in 1969. The 1970’s marked a period of development and growth at Sterling, with the construction of their Italianate winery, complete with aerial tramway for visitors, as well as the continued acquisition of prime Napa property – the Rutherford and Diamond Mountain Ranch vineyards. Sterling’s growth sped up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially with the implementation of a six-phase plan to increase production efficiency and improve quality, all designed to meet the exploding demand for fine, west coast wines. The culmination of the program led to the launch of the Vinter’s Collection line of Sterling wines in 2000, representing over one million cases annually across nine varietals, sourced primarily from Central Coast, Monterey and Paso Robles vineyards. Further winery renovations, including an all new visitor center were completed in 2002 and a dedicated facility to produce the Sterling Reserve wine label was added in 2008.
Throughout all of its history, Sterling has tried to remain true to the founding philosophy of producing the best wine that California can offer at reasonable prices that your average wine lover can afford. The Central Coast Meritage that I tasted recently is a good example of this philosophy. Crafted from the five varietals allowed to produce red wine in Bordeaux, the Meritage is a pleasing example of easy drinking, Californian sunshine. A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, Sterling’s Meritage is a very ripe, almost plump version of its Gallic cousins. Loaded with fruit, the wine is the consummate expression of the west coast’s easy-drinking style. Don’t buy this wine expecting any of the common markers you find in Bordeaux, though, for while it shares the same grape varieties, their emergence from vineyards in California’s Central Coast is like a richly tanned, buff surfer emerging from the waves… wonderful in the moment, but probably not built for the long term.
And that’s okay – I found my bottle locally for $8.99 (Marked down from $14.99), which is a great price for a BBQ-friendly wine. OBTW – The Sterling website indicates that the wine is SOLD OUT through their channels, so scoop it up fast, if you’re so inclined.
My tasting note:
Lively, jammy nose with fresh cherry, red berry and explosive floral hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and soft, supple tannin – good balance. Dark fruit core with loads of black cherry, blackberry jam and tarry, chocolate notes – very juicy. Moderate length with a smooth, simple, infinitely quaffable finish. Drinking well – not for aging… at all. Great value, at the marked down price, less so at its full retail price.