2006 Sonoma County Merlot
California: Sonoma County
What We Say
Today’s budget-minded Merlot delivers an exceptional drinking experience – for less money that comparable wines, earning it this QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) Alert.
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Mission Codename: No longer Sideways
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Send Agent Red back to Ravenswood Winery, one of our most popular wineries, to procure their Sonoma County Merlot, a small-production, limited-availability wine that delivers a high-dollar drinking experience, for a fraction of the price.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Ravenswood Winery
Wine Subject: 2006 Merlot
Winemaker: Joel Peterson
Backgrounder: For today’s wine, we return to Ravenswood Winery, one of our most popular wineries. This time around, Agent Red was able to procure an allotment of their excellent Sonoma County Merlot, a limited-availability wine that is a hidden gem of the winery. The Sonoma mountain AVA was shaped by ancient volcanic activity. The mountain, which consists of obsidian, marine deposits and ash, rises high above the Sonoma Valley. Vineyards on Sonoma Mountain benefit from being above the fog line. This allows for even, slow ripening – resulting in complex Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with elegant and complex fruit flavors.
Varietal Backgrounder: To true wine lovers, Merlot is one of the finest wine varietals in the world. Today, Merlot continues to sell in record numbers across the US, outpacing most other varietals. Merlot is a sincere, food-fabulous wine for serious wine drinkers, and today’s wine raises the bar for Merlot by delivering a delicious, complex, fruit-forward wine with plenty of complexity.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Darkest garnet, with a magenta edge. After swirling, thin, wine-stained legs start low on the glass wall. They take some time long time to emerge before slowly running downward.
Smell – Sweet and spicy with blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry and soft brown spice out in front. After the wine breathes for a while, it reveals additional aromas of leather, savory herbs and dried meats.
Feel – Soft and round and very plush, this wine grips in at the front palate and then spreads a chalky, even dryness all around the palate. A bright acidity and integrated tannins frame the fruit, beautifully, giving the wine a great sense of balance.
Taste – Tart and sweet, with blackberry jam, wild strawberry, black cherry and red plum providing a brilliant burst of initial flavors. Decant for 30 minutes or more, and additional flavors emerge. These include dark chocolate, soft brown spice, softly toasty oak, dried red rose petals and a hint of flinty black pepper.
Finish – Very long and packed with dark fruit flavors. Gradually, the fruit tails off, replaced by dried red rose, bakers chocolate, spice, flint and black pepper.
Conclusion – With nearly a dozen limited-production Ravenswood wines featured here, we have come to expect greatness. While the winery’s focus is on great Zinfandel, their Merlot and their red blends really shine, as well. Today’s 2006 Sonoma County Merlot is a delicious, budget-minded wine of terrific balance and distinctive character. Bright and bold, with delicious fruit and earthy flavors, this is a classic, food-fantastic wine that provides a flavor-packed, palate-cleansing experience that our tasting panel all really enjoyed. And, while this is a great food companion, we also agreed that this wine would be a great Springtime solo-sipper. If you love Ravenswoods wine, you’ll certainly enjoy this delicious Merlot. Cheers to Ravenswood and to winemaker, Joel Peterson, for expanding our horizons!
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
89 Points – Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar – Deep, bright red. Smoky cherry and dark chocolate aromas are complicated by mint and espresso. Deep and chewy, with bitter cherry and chocolate flavors, dusty tannins and good acid lift. Shuts down on the finish, suggesting that this will need a bit of time to stretch out.
About This Wine:
Bright high-tone perfumy scents of spice, cherry, vanilla, and plums lend elegance to deep, ripe fruit notes with hints of dark chocolate that are typical of this grape variety. The 2006 Sonoma County Merlot is fresh and uplifting, rich without being heavy, and perfectly balanced with a cherry-spice finish and the ideal amount of astringency. Three to fve years will add depth and harmony to this wine. This racy Merlot will be lovely accompaniment to roasted and grilled red meats, or a fabulous partner for a good roast chicken with herbs and garlic.
Rich, full-bodied and with scents of cedar and cherries, this Merlot will age well and be an admirable dinner companion. Given an outstanding combination of grapes, it isn’t surprising that Ravenswood’s Sonoma County Merlot has generated a tremendous amount of interest and excitement.
About The Winery:
For as long as anybody cares to remember, this has been the credo (calling card? Battle cry? Team yell? Coat of arms?) of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California. Expressing our commitment to full-flavored varietal wine — notably Zinfandel — it sums up our mission to capture everything a vineyard has to offer, and to promote it in a way that won’t put people to sleep. Wine is, after all, one of the most fascinating and fun things in life, which is why Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson believes that it belongs on the table — not on a pedestal or in an ivory tower.
How did the name of Ravenswood become interchangeable with irresistibility? In the early 1970s, when California’s claim to fame was the “best jug wine in the world,” Joel’s dream was to create wines that would rival the greatest of Europe. Turned out he wasn’t dreaming: In his first vintage, 1976, he produced 327 cases of Dry Creek Zin that took first place in a prestigious San Francisco tasting. But despite the cult following and critical acclaim that began to swirl around its hypnotic logo, Ravenswood remained a roving boutique until the late 1980s, when its Vintners Blend program was launched. Conceived on Joel’s conviction that, besides great wine, the world needs good, affordable wine (“a lake of wine an inch deep”), it redefined the concept of Best Jug Wine in the World.
Thanks to this and a few other things (not least, its tireless campaign against priggish elitism), Ravenswood acquired an informal reputation as the people’s premium winery. In 1999 the company went public with a “Dutch auction” of shares offered over the Internet, and two years later Ravenswood was purchased by Constellation Brands, becoming part of its fine-wine division, Franciscan Estates — a productive partnership that kept the winery under Joel’s control while providing greater resources for efficient operation and growth.
The picture has changed a bit since 1976. Following the original inspiration of wineries like Ravenswood, California has now shirked its once-wimpy status to a fault. But the more things change around our Sonoma headquarters, the more they stay the same. In this brave new enologically altered world, Ravenswood continues to set a stubborn standard for complex, balanced, uncompromising wine that captures everything a vineyard has to offer (and, we might add, nothing more).
About The Winemaker:
Joel Peterson grew up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay during the Dark Ages when California wine was judged by the type of jug it was bottled in. However, Joel’s farsighted father Walter bucked the status quo by starting the San Francisco Wine Sampling Club, which studied fine wines from all over the world. Walter allowed his son to join the group’s twice-weekly tastings when Joel was nine years old, carefully measuring the wine in the boy’s glass — then his spittoon — to make sure everything was expectorated.
By the time he was a teenager, Joel thus had a working knowledge of European vineyards and vintages, along with a collection of headstrong opinions about what made good wine. After graduating from Oregon State University, he followed in the professional footsteps of his parents (both of whom were chemists), going to work as a laboratory scientist. On the side, he made money through wine writing and consulting, gaining a local reputation as a gifted taster (and tasteless punster).
Eventually it dawned on Joel that he had the background (not to mention the prejudices) to be an actual winemaker. Hence, he apprenticed with Joseph Swan — one of California’s outstanding craftsmen of fine Zinfandel — to learn the art of traditional winemaking as practiced in Bordeaux and Burgundy. In 1976 Joel founded Ravenswood in partnership with fellow wine lover Reed Foster (a Harvard MBA gone astray) and over the next half-dozen years, their fledgling operation moved from the rear corner of one willing winery to another. When Ravenswood finally turned a profit after a dozen years of operation, they settled on the northern edge of Sonoma, where the winery’s tasting room is located.
Joel is now acknowledged as a leader in California wine — an articulate spokesman and stylistic trendsetter who helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon that it is today. If there were a California Winemaking Hall of Fame, he’d be a shoo-in for early induction — not just as a home-run hitter but as one of the most popular players in the majors. (It’s said that even as a Little Leaguer he could handle the spitter with aplomb.)
Varietal: 92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Syrah
Appellation: Sonoma County
Aging: 22 months in 100% French oak, 25% new
TA: 0.62 gr/ml