A Surprise from a Classic Winery: Sterling Napa County Meritage 2007

If you think you know everything you need to know about anything, then think again.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about Napa Valley’s Sterling Vineyards. I thought they had a classic reputation but weren’t very interesting, probably based on the fact that their wines have very large distribution — i.e. they’re in almost every grocery store. (As a small, independent wine retailer, I look for brands that my customers can’t pick up while they’re shopping for lettuce and milk.)

So when I came across a Sterling label that wasn’t familiar to me, I jumped on the internet to look it up. And I learned that Sterling Vineyards has a rather interesting history. The winery was created more than 30 years ago by successful British entrepreneur Peter Newton, who I’m guessing fell in love with the landscape and climate of the Napa Valley (if you’ve spent much time in London, you’ll now why).

Remember, this was back before Napa was a “wine country destination.” Newton planted some additional vineyards around the valley, including the first significant plantings of Merlot.

What??  You mean Sterling pre-dates, and may even have had a hand in creating, the American love affair with Merlot? (which later became a scornful relationship, thanks to one crack by a wine geek in a movie called “Sideways.”)

Even more noteworthy (to me), Sterling produced its first wines in 1969, including California’s first vintage-dated Merlot. Again, really??

So with this history in mind, let’s get back to the bottle i found in an (un-named) wine warehouse store. It’s called Sterling Meritage Napa County 2007 Limited Release. Again, I went “to the cloud,” and found absolutely nothing about this Napa County Meritage on the Sterling website.

Now most of you out there in the wine blogosphere know that a Meritage is a California-made blend that uses some or all of the Bordeaux varietals. OK, I knew Sterling makes a Meritage-style blend called SVR Reserve that sells for somewhere in the region of $55, because I’ve tasted and enjoyed it many times. And Sterling’s everyday-priced Vintner’s Collection makes a Meritage, but it’s not labelled “Napa County” and it’s less expensive than the one I was looking at.

So OK, let’s cut to the chase. I finally got an explanation from a helpful person in the Sterling tasting room, who told me that this wine had been bottled exclusively for the un-named wine warehouse store, and they’d never seen the wine or any technical information on it.

So I’ll tell you all I know — this is really kick-ass wine, especially for the price I paid. The back label says it’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernat Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. That, in fact, is all five of the Bordeaux varietals (excepting Carmenere, which no one includes anymore). So this is a classic blend, as the nose and palate attest.

The nose shows the pedigree right off the cork. Rich berry fruit and vanilla oak are all over the place. I didn’t pause long before sipping, and I got loads of plum, black cherry and sweet vanilla oak, with a bit of mocha and spice. And it was deep… The flavors filled my mouth and the finish that started out sweet finished nice and long.

The Merlot in this blend clearly led the way with soft, sweet fruit, but the Cab added structure and depth. It was plush and hedonistic, but I could have enjoyed it all night. And since I only paid $15 for this bottle, I felt like I’d won the lottery. OK, I have to tell you now that the warehouse store that sells this wine is BevMo (which are only in California and Arizona), and this wine is part of a promotion where just .05 will get you a second bottle. In the case of this wine, that’s a total steal.

Look for this one if you live in CA or AZ, but you’ll also enjoy Sterling’s single-vineyard series wines, Diamond Mountain Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and Three Palms Vineyard Merlot, which are also on sale.


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4 Responses to “A Surprise from a Classic Winery: Sterling Napa County Meritage 2007”

  • Connie:

    Glad I ran across your site, Wine Lady. In Morgan Hill, CA we have a fun group who meet once monthly -GLAM (Grape Lovers At Morgan Hill) and this month’s varietal selection is Meritage. I purchased this 2007 Sterling Meritage and am excited to share your article with our group…and see what their thoughts are for this reasonably priced wine.

    • Hi Connie — Thanks for your comment. Your group sounds like a blast, and you can never go wrong tasting Meritage… Let me know what you all think of the Sterling.
      Deb Lapmardo

      • Rob:

        Well the reason this isn’t something on the website is because Sterling is part of Diageo, which also owns BV. Not surprising, this wine reminds very much of BV Tapestry….. I would guess that this is not something special out Sterling, but more likely an over supply in Tapestry program and they don’t want to injure the brand and bring the price down to get rid of all the wine; hence the Sterling Meritage label. A better price then Tapestry which normally sells at $45 a bottle. I do think it is a great wine for a great price and hopefully they will continue to have excess wine in their BV reserve program.

        • You could be right. There sure is a lot of excess wine out there right now. It’s great for us, right? We get to drink great wine for a very reasonable price!
          Thanks for your comment,
          Debbie at

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