A deep garnet color greets the eye as the Merlot is poured. Initially, the nose is marked by aromas of blackberry, cassis and sweet oak. As the wine opens, notes of cherry, violets, cedar and white pepper add accent. In the mouth, the wine is firmly structured with rich tannins framing a cascade of flavors. Concentrated currant and red cherry are joined with anise, exotic tea and pomegranate. The oak comes forward on the mid-palate with toasty warm vanilla notes as the wine turns delightfully chewy on the finish. The 1997 Merlot is a beautifully structured wine with an ideal balance of power and finesse. Enjoyable now, but it will reward patient cellaring by revealing even more nuance.
Matanzas Creek Winery
Founded in 1977, Matanzas Creek Winery is located on the site of a retired dairy farm in Sonoma County's Bennett Valley. In 1985, the original winery, a converted dairy barn, gave way to a modern winemaking facility and since that time the Estate's Bennett Valley vineyards have grown to include over 280-acres of Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. Vineyard acquisitions in Sonoma Valley, Carneros, Russian River Valley and Knights Valley provide the vineyard management and winemaking teams with an enviable selection of fruit. Sourced from Estate-owned vineyards, the Matanzas Creek wine portfolio includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot, as well as a limited amount of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
As important as the history of the winery itself is its location in Sonoma County's newest American Viticultural Area (AVA), Bennett Valley. Although only formally recognized as an AVA in December 2003, Bennett Valley has a rich history of grape growing dating back to the mid-1800s. Once defined as part of Sonoma County's Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain AVA's, Bennett Valley overlaps with these winegrowing regions but carves out 8,150 acres to call its own (of which 850 acres are planted with grapevines). Three mountains define Bennett Valley and also serve to capture a cool maritime air stream which promotes a cooler, longer growing season that results in more complex wines.
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Twice as large as Napa in size, Sonoma County only makes about half as much wine as its northeasterly neighbor. Because of its vast size, however, Sonoma is able to achieve far more diversity within its borders, which include sub-AVAs that are climatically varied. The atmosphere of Sonoma is decidedly laid-back and down-to-earth, but the wines are serious and well-made, ranging in style from subtle and elegant to rich and powerful. Grape varieties are more varied here, from Pinot Noir and Zinfandel to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The largest sub-AVAs of Sonoma include Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley. Each sub-AVA, with its own micro-climate, is unique in its grape varieties and styles of wine. Dry Creek makes a mean Zinfandel while Russian River produces stand up Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Alexander Valley makes some of the better Cabernet Sauvignons in the county and Sonoma Valley creates excellent wines from all the above varieties. Other grapes found throughout Sonoma include Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country unto itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.