As I learn more and more about wines, I am always trying to check and see how hard it is to tell wines apart. I try to keep as many things constant as possible, such that I identify what causes any differences. This time I wanted to look and see how good a winemaker could be at making different varietals, from the same area. Would the wines have the same scents, taste, color and aftertaste? Is it the winemaker or the grapes? Or, in other words, is it the chicken or the egg?
I decided to look at a 2005 Merlot ($35) and 2005 Syrah ($25) from Matanzas Creek in Sonoma. François Cordesse is the winemaker and has created two elegant and savory wines that should be appealing to most wine drinkers.
How similar would these wines be? I must confess I drank the Syrah on Friday and Merlot on Saturday, so I had to go from my notes and memory. Not a perfect science - but given there was only my wife and me - it was the best we could do without wasting wine (as my Dad would say "Waste not, want not").
First, the look of the wine (color, clarity and age): In terms of color and clarity, I found them similar - both had a nice ruby red color and were a very clear wine. As for the age of the wines, they both appeared relatively young, with the Syrah perhaps being a little further along. The way I look at a wine's age is to hold the glass at a 45-degree angle (it works better if you do this over a white background) and look through the mouth of the glass at the edge of the wine. The more change in color that you see from the edge to the center of the wine, the older the wine.
Second is the scent (or the nose) of the wine: The Syrah seemed to have a stronger scent led largely by pepper, whereas the Merlot had more complex smells with distinct notes of vanilla, oak and plum.
Finally is the taste, from start to finish. The taste is where I found the most consistencies. They both tended to be dry, with a consistent flavor from start to finish. They also had just the right amount of tannins (I find tannins give the wine almost a chewy feel). Too many tannins make the wine feel like it is sticking to your teeth and not enough make the wine feel too thin. The aftertaste lasted just long enough to keep the flavor in my mouth, but was not so strong as to go sour. Other than the fact that we had two different grapes, both of these wines had a very consistent and enjoyable taste.
My conclusion is that François Cordesse did an excellent job of creating a Merlot and a Syrah, which each has unique scents and flavors derived from the grapes. The true talent of a winemaker is being able to create continuity in clarity, balance and aftertaste. It is apparent to me that he is a gifted winemaker. If I am at a restaurant and see a Matanzas Creek on the list, I will feel confident in ordering any of their wines knowing that François Cordesse is behind the label. Drink up and enjoy.
Until next time, cheers!
Don Colman, the Everyday Wine Guy lives in Danville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org