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MacRostie Merlot 1999
The aroma of this wine is wide-ranging and youthful just like you might expect considering the grapes in its blend and the vintage. The wine has notes of fresh red fruits, predominantly raspberry. It also smells of dark fruit: blackberry and blueberry. There is an intriguing aroma of mint.
The wine possesses slight aromas of tobacco, like you'd get from a cigar box, along with attractive qualities of smoked meat. This is quite a package of aromas that are nicely integrated with barrel toastiness. The wine is a mouthful. My first impression is of red fruit and cherry liquor flavors. I get an impression of tannin that is firm yet fine grained, indicating youthfulness. The wine leaves me with a spicy richness, reminiscent of nutmeg. The finish lingers and is vigorous, indicating to me that this Merlot blend will age well.
Over the past three decades, MacRostie Winery and Vineyards has established itself as one of the Sonoma Coast’s defining wineries, and a leader in a bright, balanced and age-worthy style of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Today, MacRostie is guided by Sonoma County visionary and winery founder Steve MacRostie, and talented winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen, who together are making the finest wines in the winery’s storied history.
Using grapes farmed by legendary winegrowing families including the Duttons, Sangiacomos, Martinellis and Bacigalupis, and from Steve’s own Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, MacRostie’s Sonoma Coast wines have established themselves as benchmarks, offering a rare intersection between labor-intensive small-lot winemaking, fair pricing and the complexity that can only be achieved by working with the finest vineyards.
Though founded in 1987, the seeds for MacRostie Winery and Vineyards go back to 1974—to the early days of Sonoma County winemaking—when Steve began his career at Hacienda Winery. At a time when most California winemakers were fixated on Bordeaux varieties and Napa Valley, Steve and a handful of other pioneers took a different path, embracing the fog-shrouded vineyards of Sonoma County and their untapped potential for producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the world. Steve quickly gained renown as a winemaker capable of making exceptional Burgundian-variety wines. He also began to develop his own style, favoring crispness, complexity and vineyard character, as opposed to overt opulence.
In 1987, Steve established MacRostie. To make his earliest wines, he reached out to growers he knew and respected—leaders of Sonoma County winegrowing, like the Sangiacomo family. MacRostie’s wines were soon widely hailed for their unique balance of cool-climate structure and vibrant fruit. In 1992, years before the modern Pinot Noir boom, MacRostie added Pinot Noir to its portfolio, and quickly developed a devoted following for the pure and elegant style of these wines.
Several years later, inspired by a desire to cultivate his own great piece of land, Steve discovered an amazing mountainside ranch in the Petaluma Gap region on the borderlands of the Sonoma Coast. Planted to Steve’s specifications, this windswept site has become Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, and the cornerstone of the winery’s vineyard program. At the same time, in its drive to represent the entirety of the Sonoma Coast, MacRostie has continued to explore ever-farther west, to sites like Dutton Ranch and Goldrock Ridge, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. To capture the rich expressiveness of the entire appellation, MacRostie works with more than 30 Chardonnay vineyards and over 15 Pinot Noir sites—a remarkable level of diversity for a small winery.
In 2015, MacRostie unveiled its new state-of-the-art Pinot-focused winery and MacRostie Estate House on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley, which is also the home to Thale’s Vineyard, named after Steve’s wife. "I have always wanted a home for MacRostie that expresses who we are as a winery and what we believe in as clearly as our wines do," says Steve. "Our new home in the Russian River Valley is a culmination of everything we have learned over our first quarter century, and a statement about who we plan to be over the next 25 years."
Known for elegant wines that combine power and finesse, Carneros is set in the rolling hills that straddle the southernmost parts of both Sonoma and Napa counties. The cooling winds from the abutting San Pablo Bay, combined with lots of midday California sunshine, create an ideal environment for producing wines with a perfect balance of crisp acidity and well-ripened fruit.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot’s subtle tannins make it perfect for early drinking and allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. But the grape also has enough stuffing to make serious, world-renowned wines. One simply needs to look to Bordeaux to understand Merlot's status as a noble variety. On the region’s Right Bank, in St. Emilion and Pomerol, it dominates in blends with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to (and helps soften) Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. They are often emulated elsewhere in Bordeaux-style blends, particularly in California’s Napa Valley, where Merlot also frequently shines on its own.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.