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2002 Frias Family Merlot, Spring Mountain, Napa

Steal this wine. Or at least get it while you can, because it won't last long at this price. But I am getting ahead of myself. What I really should be telling you are all the reasons why this wine is a no-brainer for those who are fans of Napa Merlot, which is most people these days, wine snobs and novices alike.

First, and maybe not so important to the consumer who is staring at a bottle on the shelf of a store, the Frias Family is actually a family, and more than that, they're really great folks -- super approachable and enthusiastic about anything to do with wine and those who enjoy it. Your first encounter with these old time Napa folks is most likely to be Manny Frias Jr., whose business card reads "Distributor - Grower - Son" and whose broad smile and affable nature make him a perfect face to the wine drinking public.

The Frias Family has been in Napa since they purchased their estate on Spring Mountain near Robert Keenan Winery in 1977 and they produced their first commercial vintage in 1991. They focus primarily on extremely small production Cabernet, the chosen grape of Spring Mountain, but luckily for us they've also taken to making this Merlot from some of their more recently planted vineyards.

The winery has played host to a fairly successful progression of winemakers over the years including Robert Levy (now of Harlan Estates), Greg Graham of Rombauer, to their current winemaker Bruce Devlin who also makes wine at another of my favorite small producers in Napa: Ballentine Vineyards.

You can't have such great land and good winemakers without attracting a lot of attention, which unfortunately makes these wines a little difficult to get. Robert Parker said "The Frias Vineyards premium boutique is of exceptional quality. . . Their Cabernets share the same minty, full-body and long lived characteristics as those made from the Oakville-Rutherford section." Parker is not the only one who is a fan. Wine and Spirits Magazine recently gave the 2001 Cabernet a score of 94.

However, this Merlot may not be that publicized, so run, don't walk to your nearest retailer of fine Napa wines and see if they can get you some. Or better yet, go up and hang out with the fine folks at Frias for an afternoon and get some good company along with your Merlot.

Tasting Notes:
Bright ruby colored, tinged with a little purple, this wine has a powerful nose of cherries, plums and smoke aromas. On the palate it is lush and supple with strong cherry cola and vanilla flavors tapering into a nice finish. A classic Merlot that is not over-oaked like so many from Napa these days.

Food Pairing:
This wine will go with all variety of red meats, from a simple steak or burger to osso bucco. Maybe you could try it with these steak, potato and leek pies.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $25

You can purchase this wine from the vineyard's tasting room or Web site at $32 a bottle, or you can find it at retailers for slightly less.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.