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Peterson Dry Creek Merlot 1996
Peterson Winery grew out of the vineyards that now supply us with grapes. That may seem unusual, but my background is not just in winemaking but it is also in grape growing, otherwise known as viticulture. That is why I refer to myself as a winegrower. For me making great wine is about the grapes -- where and how they were grown, what the weather conditions were and how the vineyards were managed during the growing season. Before I digress too much, let me give you a quick overview of how Peterson Winery came to be.
I came to Dry Creek Valley in 1983, working with my partner, Bill Hambrecht, to find and develop world-class vineyard properties. It was exciting to be able to select ideal vineyard locations and then plant the appropriate grape variety and clone for that growing region. Once the vineyards came into production, we had amazing fruit being produced in our Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) vineyards and our Mendocino County Floodgate Vineyard. The next step was a natural one. I wanted to make wine from the fruits of my labor. (Sorry about the pun, it was too good to pass up.)
In 1987, all the pieces fell into place and Peterson Winery was born. We now produce 5000 cases annually, mostly in small lots.
Home to a diverse array of smaller AVAs with varied microclimates and soil types, Sonoma County has something for every wine lover. Physically twice as large as Napa Valley, the region only produces about half the amount of wine but boasts both tremendous quality and variety. With its laid-back atmosphere and down-to-earth attitude, the wineries of Sonoma are appreciated by wine tourists for their friendliness and approachability. The entire county intends to become a 100% sustainable winegrowing region by 2019.
Grape varieties are carefully selected to reflect the best attributes of their sites—Dry Creek Valley’s consistent sunshine is ideal for Zinfandel, while the warm Alexander Valley is responsible for rich, voluptuous Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are important throughout the county, most notably in the cooler AVAs of Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Syrah have also found a firm footing here.
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.