A review per the request of Glowin Orb...I was asked to taste the 1997 vintage, but this was unavailable. It should be noted that Glowin Orb had only kind words for the 1997; and in terms of overall California vintage quality, '97 beats 1999.
This wine is a representative of the lowest of the three tiers of wine Ravenswood produces, and retails for about $13 a bottle here in New Hampshire, USA. This winery's moot is "No Wimpy Wines," which reflects their preference for producing fuller-bodied wines. As part of this approach, Ravenswood uses some wild yeasts in fermentation, ages wines in small French oak barrels, and occasionally uses the grape stems in the maceration process to increase tannins. Of course, these techniques are applied to a limited degree in their less expensive wines. For example, this Merlot was treated to only eight months in oak before bottling. But this makes some kind of sense: this is the wine that they want to put on the shelves quickly, while their other, more expensive offerings get more barrel time. Well that's enough babbling--on to the wine itself.
The wine presented a very dark red color, a sign of its youth. The aroma was heavy with oak, which surprised me (given the relatively short period of barrel aging). The taste was pleasantly fruity, but the fruit was not deep; instead, smoky hints prevailed. The acidity was a touch too low, and the alcohol content perhaps a touch too high. In terms of tannins, the wine was lacking, and it could have used a little more backbone. Overall, the wine was a little out of balance, and I had to chill the wine down from about 70 degrees F to nearer 60 degrees F to move the alcohol into the background and bring out the fruit. In sum, while it was a wine with some flaws, it was still a solid Merlot and made for enjoyable drinking--but definitely cool it a bit before drinking (though not too cool!). I paired it with a chicken and risotto dish, and it worked pretty well.
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