After getting hammered by several wine critics, I just had to get my hands on a bottle and find out what was so awful. After opening the bottle, I understood the problem encountered by the pundits — Lyeth Meritage is a raw, rough-around-the-edges wine that does not immediately show well. Subsequently, the wine was given low ratings and ambivalent reviews. But this doesn’t mean the wine isn’t worth buying — rather, what it means is that Lyeth Meritage does not impress critics in a typical wine reviewer’s environment.
You have to take this into serious consideration whenever you read a wine review in a major wine magazine. Generally, a wine reviewer will taste anywhere from 25 to 50 wines — before breakfast! There are literally dozens of bottles waiting to be reviewed, and only so much time to taste them. Consequently, many wines — usually ones that are not wide open and do not show globs of upfront fruit — will be given lower ratings than they really deserve. That’s not a knock on the major wine publications — for the most part they do a decent job — but rather a criticism of their system. (You’re allowed to critique a critic, right?)
Lyeth Meritage is an example of a wine hurt by “the system”. Tasted within minutes after opening, its nose is closed, it has a harsh bite on the palate, and at best it seems clumsy. However, if you open the wine, decant it, and let it breathe for 10-20 minutes, you will be rewarded by ripe red and black berry aromas and flavors, some black pepper, a hint of licorice, cardamom and clove spice, firm tannins, and ample acidity — with the initial harshness replaced by a smooth texture and fairly long, ripe finish that might end up just a touch too hot. Let’s get something straight: this is no mind-blowing wine — but it isn’t supposed to be. For about fifteen bucks, you should expect a wine that matches well with a similarly priced steak, and gives you a bit of complexity to ponder over an after-dinner cheese course. Said another way, it should be about twice as good as a seven-dollar wine, and about half as good as a 30-dollar wine — and it is, in both cases. In fact, this wine might be a little better, though time will tell. The amount of ripe fruit and complexity (earth, spices, menthol, tobacco, herb) that it is showing now, wrapped up by generous tannins, leads me to believe that this Meritage will benefit from 3-4 years in the cellar. Here’s the good news: since the “important” wine mags gave this wine less-than-stellar reviews, you should be able to find this easily, and perhaps at a discount. Enjoy it now with a fatty ribeye, porterhouse, or cheese plate, or put it in the wine cave and forget about it until 2008-2009.
a-6 t-7 b-8 fc-6 v-8 ~ 85 point rating