I'll explain meritage shortly; for now keep your eye on the rooster. If he looks familiar, it's because he was the antecedent of Rex Goliath, the cocky and wildly successful $8 wine line. The Hahn family used roosters on both brands to reflect the translation of their German name. Hahn sold the Rex brand to Constellation a few years ago and has turned its energies, cleverness and eye for value back to making fine wines.
This one is a meritage, which is the way Americans refer to a wine that is a blend of several varieties, usually the five favored in Bordeaux: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec. Hahn's is that, and the winemaker emphasizes that he likes a blend heavy on merlot, despite the snickers that merlot has drawn in recent years. So this meritage is one-third merlot, all the other grapes play supporting roles, and I'd give the Oscar not to the cab but to the petit verdot, whose strength and color back up the merlot's richness.
The result is an affordable equal of a St. Emilion in a good vintage that is fat with flavor and easy texture. It has cherries and red fruits in the nose that darken into plums and blueberries in the mouth, with a slight spice, perhaps cinnamon. It's a very easy drink that will be happy with a big steak tonight, and still good five years from now.
Availability: $16 to $20 in wide distribution.
Chris Sherman, Times staff writer