MATANZAS CREEK has been making artisan merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc before any writer ever applied that word to wine. Founded in the late 1970s in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley, it has given new status to a small wine region that had grapes as early as the 1860s only to be snuffed out by phylloxera and Prohibition. Bennett Valley is on higher ground south of Santa Rosa framed by three mountains and bathed in breezes and fog off the Pacific. It is one of Sonoma’s coolest growing regions because it’s in a direct line with the ocean air channeled by the Petaluma Gap. It’s these cool breezes and the mountain soils that give so much character to the wines. Matanzas Creek also is known for its magnificent fields of lavender and lavender products.
Matanzas Creek Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013, $26: This chardonnay is for people who love to taste power in a white wine — and not just the fruit, but the oak and alcohol. It’s a complex wine built of cool mountain fruit with a bright citrus/apple/marzipan character and granite minerality. Balancing all that flavor is a sturdy spine of acidity. It’s made to order for pairing with fresh-caught seafood or delicately cooked chicken, veal or pork.
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Helena Bench 2013, $40: What structure! What elegance, and complexity. It’s sculpted with acidity and vibrant tropical fruit. Flavors and character are further enhanced by fermentation in large wooden casks that add roundness and smooth the sharp edges. A smaller portion is fermented in cement “egg” fermenters, which add yet another dimension — concrete imparts no flavor and is somewhat porous, allowing the wine to breathe as it does in barrels. The wine is a “cocktail” of peach, pineapple, grapefruit, lime zest and melon. Helena Bench Vineyard is owned by Matanzas Creek and is located at the foot of Mount St. Helena in Knights Valley.
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Bennett Valley 2013, $32: This seductive dry white reminds me of New Zealand’s Marlborough district with its herbal, floral, tart, tangy character. It’s not for the meek of palate. It’s quite different from the Helena Bench with acidity that can curl the hairs in your nose. Aromas are herbal and floral with supporting notes of lime, lychee nut and Asian pear.
Matanzas Creek Merlot Sonoma County 2012, $28: This is Merlot with a big engine under the hood — bold aromas, flavors that roar, plenty of structure and body. It opens with oak-infused aromas of cherry, raspberry, plum and sage. Tannins are round and supple, acidity is firm. It’s a wine with body and power that is still evolving. It’s produced off vineyards in Bennett Valley, Alexander Valley and Knights Valley. Other selection: the 2012 Matanzas Creek Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot, $60, is an age-worthy beauty from the terraced hillside estate vineyard across the road from the winery. It’s loaded with dark berry, plum and bittersweet chocolate flavors with a hint of tobacco and brown spices. Grapes are the Petrus clone.
Matanzas Creek wines are in wide distribution in Michigan.
You can reach Sandra Silfven at firstname.lastname@example.org.