During my latest tour of Sonoma County wine country, I got a sneak peek at the new winery and tasting room for Flanagan Wines. They’re a boutique business that is certainly booming at the moment. After tasting a full line-up of their current releases, I can say from experience that this success is absolutely due to the fact that each bottle contains a specific vineyard’s story.
Once Upon A Time, there was a Merlot from Bennet Valley Vineyard…
About the Wine: Flanagan Wines Bennet Valley Merlot is made from 100% Merlot grapes from the steep slopes of Bennet Valley in Sonoma County. Much like the Pinot Noir I reviewed, these Merlot grapes, due to the steep incline where the vineyard lot is located, struggle for water and, thus, the berries are quite tiny and concentrated with flavor.
I particularly enjoy this quote from proprietor Eric Flanagan about this Merlot: “The wine is 100% Merlot but even top sommeliers frequently ask me how much Cabernet is in it. To me the wine is reminiscent of a top vintage of Figeac or Vieux Chateau Certan, which are both Merlot based right bank Bordeaux wines that have a meaningful percentage of Cabernet.”
And it’s true. When you taste this wine you can taste the influence that the French Bordeaux’s have had on Eric and winemaker Cabell Coursey.
Flavor Profile: The nose of this wine is rich. Rich with dark berries and dried fruits — think blackberries, overripe blueberries, with a scattering of currants. Swirl and sniff again, and you’ll get a distinct wet-woodsy scent, reminiscent of a dense forest right after rainfall. And if you really stick your nose in there (as I like to do), you’ll even find a bit of savory scents, though it may be hard to distinguish the specifics.
The palate is where that French influence truly comes into play. The fruits are surprisingly subtle, as if that rain in the forest washed away some of the intensity those bush berries tend to carry. However, as the wine lingers on the palate, so does that rain water seem to dissipate and sun start to illuminate some deeper level flavors. The mid-palate brings a different kind of moisture, almost a thicker one (oily?) and you get an earthy, meaty-mushroom taste and texture. Continue to take your time, letting the wine sit even longer if you can. Exhale through the nose, and take a minute to let the sun, well, completely dry up all the rain. For me, this is the moment when I sensed a bit of smoke, ash, dry wood, or flint.
And that is where the wine finishes — in a smoldering of ashes. It’s a lingering finish, an intriguing finish, a finish that will make you want to start again. And isn’t that the best kind of story? It’s the kind of story that you never tire of, that you want to read or listen to again and again because when you do, you feel like you’re experiencing it for the first time each time.
Poetics aside, this is a well-balanced wine — with acid and tannin that work hand in hand from start to finish, without one ever dominating over the other. Fruits transition to savory; savory transitions to umami; and each of these transitions is so seamless and so subtle — that’s why I encourage you to take your time and read the wine in sight, sound, and taste.
Food Pairing: There are a few different directions you could go here, but I think the important thing, whatever you decide to do, is to not overpower your ingredients. Don’t get fancy with sauces or spices — let the produce speak for itself. The wine is telling this oh-so-organic story. So just keep that in mind.
For meat-eaters, go with a lean cut of beef (like filet mignon) cooked rare-medium (read: more rare than medium, but definitely not raw) with roasted potatoes and a simple herb-based garnish or side salad.
For the veggie-lovers, roast or grill a portobello mushroom and place it atop some sauteéd veggies (like sweet onions and bell peppers) and, again, think fresh herbs for side or garnish.
Either way, keep things simple, keep things clean.
More Info: If you haven’t yet read my review of Flanagan Wines new winery along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, please do — it includes links to a few other recommended wines.
Of course for more information about Flanagan Wines, to schedule a visit, and to purchase wines directly, visit the Flanagan Wines website.
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