© 1997 JDM Enterprises
NO MORE WIMPSby Jerry D. Mead
I've been a fan of winemaker Chuck Ortman since the days when he was a behind-the-scenes magician for numerous wineries, when he held the title "consulting enologist."
I also remember an occasion when a prominent Northern California retailer staged a giant Chardonnay tasting at which I was guest. Because 30 or more wines were being tasted in one evening, the retailer grouped them in flights and by region.
There were three flights of 10 to 12 wines each, one group of Napa wines, one from Sonoma and a third from the Central Coast. I don't remember specific wines now, but what I do remember is that a Chuck Ortman made Chardonnay was in first place in each group (had the top two in one) and that an Ortman wine was overall best of the tasting.
This was when Ortman was releasing his own wines under a tiny label called Meridian, wines that he had made using another winery's facilities. And shortly before the owners of Beringer made him an offer he couldn't refuse. They would buy his fledgling brand, give him a long term contract as winemaker and establish a new winery in San Luis Obispo County that would be a real home for Meridian. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Ortman has continued to knock them (and me) dead with some of the best value Chardonnays ever since.
Was Ortman a happy camper? In most ways yes, but Ortman wanted a red wine reputation to equal the one he already had for whites, and truth be told he has made some outstanding Cabernets and Syrahs over the years.
Alas! I have always called his Pinot Noirs "wimpy." Oh! They have always been, sound, well made, even tasty wines, but always on the lighter side and lacking in that mysterious Pinot magic that is only rarely encountered, whether in California, Oregon or Burgundy.
With the latest Meridian releases, as noted in the tasting notes below, Mister Charles Ortman should be feeling totally fulfilled, having mastered that most difficult of all wine grapes, Pinot Noir.
Meridian 1996 Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50) A blend of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo fruit, mildly herbaceous with really pleasant minty undertones. Totally dry but not austere. This super food companion is long on fruit. Try it with swim-fishes and citrus-based sauces. Rating: 88/90
Meridian 1996 "Santa Barbara" Chardonnay ($11) A "Best Buy" wine in virtually every vintage. This is one seriously user-friendly wine. Forget most of the adjectives...in a word it's delicious. Subtle and not-so-subtle tropical fruit flavors enhanced by gentle but well-defined French oak vanillin. Rating: 89/94
Meridian 1996 "Edna Valley Reserve" Chardonnay ($15) The lean and earthy counterpart to the wine above. Ripe apple fruit and smoky-toasty complexity. Crisp finish; long and complex aftertaste. Rating: 92/90
Meridian 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) More than two-thirds of the fruit comes from Paso Robles, with the balance from Sonoma and Napa grapes. It is 100 percent Cabernet. Blackberry and cassis are the flavors. Nicely wooded with round, inoffensive tannins. Rating: 88/88
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
Meridian 1995 "Reserve" Pinot Noir ($17) A roughly 60/40 blend of Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo fruit, yields an absolutely stunning example of this variety that Ortman will find difficult even to equal, much less surpass. Beautiful dying rose, plum and dark cherry aromas with hints of tea leaf and tomato vine. Earthy, full bodied and very rich. Very long and complex. A totally satisfying Pinot Noir experience. Buy it by the case! Rating: 98/94
Owned by Beringer Wine Estates, Meridian wines have good national distribution. Reserve wines are always more limited and more difficult to find than regular bottlings. For further information on any of the wines and their availability: Meridian Vineyards, Box 3289, 7000 Hwy 46 East, Paso Robles, CA 93447 (805) 237-6000.
You can order the awards books of: Orange County Fair ($6); New World International ($6); Los Angeles County Fair ($5); California State Fair ($5) or San Diego National ($5) from: Wine Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702 (800) 845-9463. Make sure to mention which books you want.
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.