Llano Estacado Vintner's Selection Signature Red Meritage

Meritage or Claret? What's the difference? Typically, both terms refer to Bordeaux-style blends, heavy on the Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot, with one or more of the regions classic blending grapes added for body, spice and completeness. Most fans of Argentinian reds would be surprised to learn that Malbec actually originated in France, where it was primarily used as a blending grape in Clarets, along with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and the lesser-known grapes carmenere, gros verdot, and St. Macaire. These days, meritage is the more popular term rather than the British-coined Claret, although there are still some Clarets produced by such wineries as Becker and Coppola.

Llano Estacado winery is nowhere near Llano, Texas. Rather, the term refers to a specific area of West Texas which includes Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland and Odessa, and translates to "staked plains." The winery is one of the largest producers in Texas, with more than 100,000 cases produced annually. Often, quality suffers when production is ramped up, but that is not the case for the tipple we are considering today, the Llano Estacado Vintner's Selection Signature Red Meritage.

The deep maroon color of a good Bordeaux-style blend is readily apparent in the tasting glass. The nose yields the expected berries and currant along with a lot of pepper and old leather. Black cherries and plum play across the tongue, and other spices such as cardamom are more in evidence. Very fruit-forward, thus food-friendly, and it paired very nicely with red beans and rice; in fact, the Cajun spices unleashed unexpected notes of peach and apricot, usually more prevalent in white wines. Wisely, winemaker Greg Bruni may vary his meritages from year to year, depending on which grapes are particularly productive at the time of harvest. In the case of Llano Estacado Vintner's Selection Signature Red Meritage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot comprise the usual suspects.