I left Old World Winery in a downpour and headed south to my next appointment. It was only 12 miles away, but with the majority of drivers on the 101 approaching the rain as if it were snowing at a foot an hour pace, it took me a while to get there.
That was just fine by me, actually, as my destination, Matanzas Creek Winery in Bennet Valley, was quite the contrast to the Natural Wine outpost I just left. My first “interaction” with Matanzas Creek was a few bottles of late 1990s Bennet Valley Merlot that were pretty close to spectacular.
My second? Well, that would be a couple of bottles of the same wine from the mid-2000s. Meh.
I did not really ponder the discrepancy all that much as I was not a Merlot drinker by any stretch of the imagination (I have since altered my stance considerably), but after a bit more study, it was clear that Matanzas Creek had been a major player in California Merlot.
Without going too far down the rabbit hole, the winery was founded in 1977, the winery has been a pillar in the Valley for four decades, virtually putting Bennet Valley back on the proverbial map.
Bennet Valley’s winemaking history dates back to the 19th Century, but like with so many, the area went virtually fallow during prohibition, with wine production all but disappearing. It was not until Matanzas Creek established itself as a world-class producer of Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot that Bennet Valley saw a resurgence, culminating in its own AVA in 2003.
Another significant “event” occurred in that time frame: in 2000, Jess Jackson, owner of Kendall-Jackson, purchased Matanzas Creek. Shortly after the purchase, the longtime winemakers, Susan Reed and Bill Parker, left the winery and frankly, quality suffered.
I pulled into the winery just as another deluge fell, so there was really no impetus to admire the extensive gardens on the property (the winery is known for its beautiful lavender fields, but there was not much to see under the pouring rain in early March). It was also nearly 4:00, and the tasting room would close in an hour, so there would be no dillying nor any dallying.
I saddled up to the impressive tasting room bar, and after a few brief introductions, I dove right in. Matanzas Creek makes four Sauvignon Blancs (of which I tasted the three that are not as widely distributed), and I could tell from the first sip of the 2014 Bennet Valley that the quality issues following the purchase of the winery had been addressed.
2014 Matanzas Creek Bennet Valley Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $32. Green apple, grapefruit, and a bit of cat pee. On the palate very nice with great fruit and acidity. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Matanzas Creek Knights Valley Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $40. More white fruit driven (peach and grape) with less of a cat pee note. Rounder mouthfeel with less prominent acidity, but a longer more intense finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
The “Journey” series of wines is Matanzas Creek’s flagship series, all limited-production wines, selected from the best blocks and barrels. The first was the Journey Chardonnay in 1990, followed by the Journey Merlot in 1992 (which has since become a blend and called “Journey Red”), and the Journey Sauvignon Blanc debuted in 2012.
2014 Matanzas Creek Journey Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $50. By far the best nose of the three with fleshier fruit and a decided floral aspect. Starts a bit slow but has an incredible finish. I am not a huge SB fan but this could sway me in that direction. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
We then moved onto the Chardonnays, another staple of Matanzas Creek since the beginning. The Chardonnays tend to the bigger, more traditional style of California Chardonnay as both wines go through 100% malolactic fermentation, resulting in a buttery, creamy style.
2014 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay Bennet Valley: Retail $40. 17% new French oak but it comes off as a bit woody on the nose, followed by peach and buttered popcorn. Buttery and rich–the popcorn really comes through on the palate. Lingering finish. For those that like traditional California Chardonnay, this is up your alley. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Matanzas Creek Journey Chardonnay Sonoma County: Retail $75. 60% new French oak, but it does not come off as oaky as the Bennet Valley. Richer and fruitier on the palate and a bit more amped up across the board. Again, a big California Chardonnay, but I believe in big Chardonnays, and you should too, this is really good. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2014 Matanzas Creek Bennett Valley Pinot Noir: Retail $50. Bing cherry, strawberry, and a bit of earth. Rose petal also comes through at the end. Acid initially but then intense fruit and nicely balanced. I have to say I am a fan, but it needs time to settle down a bit. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2012 Matanzas Creek Merlot Jackson Park: Retail $60. Boysenberry with some blackberry and a hint of chocolate. On the palate, this is why you come to Matanzas Creek: serious Merlot. Great fruit, nice depth, a bit of tannin still. In a few years? Look out. Outstanding. Now? 91-93 Points. In a few years? 93-95+?
2012 Matanzas Creek Merlot Alexander Valley: Retail $45. Blackberry with more of a smokey nose. A tad austere on the palate with vibrant acidity. Needs food. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Matanzas Creek Merlot Knights Valley: Retail $45. More chocolate coming through with dried flowers and small red berries. Nice fruit upfront and big tannins on the back-end. Still needs more time. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Matanzas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Knight’s Valley: Retail $60. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot. Blackberry and tobacco. Good fruit but not too much. Nice earthiness but not too much. Even though this had been open for a while, it still had some great structure and plenty of heft. Still time left–hold onto this one. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Matanzas Creek Journey Red: Retail $100. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot. Even though this could technically be labeled as a Cabernet, the Red is not always at least 75% Cabernet, so it is always labeled simply “Red,” giving the winemaker freedom to create the best blend. Again, this needs time but this is nice, really nice. We were past closing time, but I could have just sniffed this wine for another hour. Deep and complex with different elements rotating through: blackberry, anise, fig. On the palate? This clearly has a ton of time ahead of it, but it is fantastic right now. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.