by Fred McMillin
for July 28, 1997

The Head of the Class

Prologue: We studied 60 wines in my latest course for S.F. State University, College of Extended Learning. The class was asked which one tasted best. Here's the clear winner...Matanzas Creek '94 Merlot.

The Rest of the Story:

  • 1975—Merlot vines are planted on part of the 100- acre Matanzas Creek Estate in Bennett Valley on the upper, western edge of the Valley of the Moon (Sonoma). There has not been a winery in the area since before Prohibition.

  • 1978—The winery makes its first Merlot. Critic Anthony Dias Blue gives it one star when released later.

  • 1979—This Merlot will receive two stars from Mr. Blue.

  • 1980—This one will earn three stars and words like "lush, lovely and ripe." Anthony soon will write that the Merlot is becoming impressive as the estate vineyards mature.

  • 1984—The winery discontinues Cabernet Sauvignon production in order to focus on Merlot as their only red wine.

  • 1992—The decision is justified by the winery taking the top honor in the prestigious London Wine Challenge.

  • 1996—Founder Sandra McIver's problem is one any vintner would love. She says their Merlot is becoming so well-known we're worried that people might forget our major product is Chardonnay...the '93 made the "Wine Spectator" Top 100 List.
Now, as to the 1994 Merlot, my class is not alone in their opinion. None other than Robert Parker, Jr. says it shows "what heights this grape can achieve in California." The Baltimore Sun says it may be the finest California Merlot ever produced. So, try a bottle if you care enough to taste the very best.

1994 Merlot, Sonoma Valley
Matanzas Creek Winery
Santa Rosa, CA
Food Affinity—This is a purple powerhouse that I would feature after the entree with assorted cheeses and unsalted water crackers.
Contact—Tom Wark, (707)996-6492
$43


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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