Matthiasson Napa Valley White and Red Wine: New World Grapes with Old World Sensibilities
We admire innovators – true innovators look for new ways to do things. They push the old toward the new with a special sense of what is needed to push everything forward toward the future. There are innovators in every field, including wine.
We recently tasted some wines that are coming from one of California’s wine innovators, Steve Matthiasson. Steve and his wife, Jill Klein, operate the artisan winery, Matthiasson. In his day job, Steve is a consultant and vineyard manager for several properties in Napa and Sonoma valleys, but when he takes off that hat, he transforms into a pioneering winemaker.
Matthiasson produces around 500 cases per year of three different wines: the Napa Valley White Wine, Napa Valley Red Wine, and Red Hen Vineyard Merlot. Each wine is made from Californian grapes using a mix of Old and New World winemaking techniques. The WineEnabler.com crew tried the current offering of Matthiasson’s wines on this past Monday night.
Matthiasson 2007 Napa Valley White Wine
We started with the Napa Valley White. The 2007 Napa white is a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Ribolla Gialla, and 22% Semillon. The wine was barrel fermented in a mixture of new and neutral oak. The wine was kept on the lees with occasional stirring but no racking until bottling. 30% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation.
The first whiff of the glass revealed a complex wine with citrus, green apple, lees, petroleum, and spice. A second whiff revealed wet rock and a little more spice. In the mouth, the wine was full bodied without being heavy or overpowering. We found the flavors of apple, ripe fig and wet stone to be wonderful – like an early summer day in a glass. While showing its American roots, this wine managed to span the Atlantic with taste and style. Matthiasson’s 2007 Napa Valley White Wine is the best American white wine we’ve tried this year. (And it went great with remoulade sauce and spicy boiled shrimp.)
Matthiasson 2005 Napa Valley Red Hen Vineyards Merlot
The both red wines offered by Steve are fermented in open tanks in the vineyard for about a month. The cold fermentation is “cold” with two to three punch downs per day. The resulting wines are a combination of New World power and Old World finesse and complexity.
Matthiasson’s 2005 Red Hen Vineyards Merlot is a dark brooding wine that required sometime and decanting to show its stuff and lose its slight green character. In the nose, the wine shows cherry, plum, and chocolate. In the mouth, this is a full bodied wine, with a good weight and viscosity. Like the white wine, the Red Hen Merlot is muscular but not “pumped-up” or overdone. To be sure, this is a wine made from Dry Valley grapes, but it also shows a complexity and finesse sometimes missing in American wines.
Matthiasson 2007 Napa Valley Red Wine
Matthiasson’s 2005 Napa Valley Red Wine is also a big wine that is in need of a few years of cellaring or lots of air time to get to the underlying wine. When first opened, the wine showed some green olive and bell pepper that ran over everything else. But with time, this faded to reveal the underlying herbs, chocolate, and fruit. Both the Merlot and the Red Wine were nicely acidic and would be good alone or with food. Matthiasson’s stated goal is “weight without heaviness” and these two reds succeed admirably in that regard.
Overall, these wines were very nice offerings. The White Wine blend was the true star in the eyes of all tasters on Monday, and we would all love to drink it regularly. We will definitely keep our attention on Steve’s wines in the future.
(Disclosure: These wines were sent to us as a sample.)
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