2009 MATERRA, MERLOT – OAK KNOLL, NAPA VALLEY
Grape: 100% Merlot
Owners/Winemakers: Brian and Miki Cunat/Bruce Regalia and Michael Trujillo
Aged: Nine months in barriques, plus three months in bottle
Approximate Retail Price: $28
Color: Dark garnet red
Aroma: Blackberry, blueberry and raspberry
Taste: Forward fruits, followed by lush midpalate with notes of spice, cocoa and herbs, balanced with subtle tannins.
Brian Cunat and his wife, Miki, started Materra Cunat Family Vineyard in 2007 after purchasing 50 acres in the well-known Oak Knoll District of California’s Napa Valley.
Cunat grew up on a Midwestern farm, learning respect for the land and farming. The Cunats’ mutual love of wine, touring and tasting inspired their decision to open Materra. Because Cunat had no winemaking background, he hired two consulting winemakers, Bruce Regalia and Michael Trujillo.
Regalia was born into an Italian family, where he was surrounded by food and wine; his love of growing produce led him to earn a degree in botany from California State University, Chico. He then worked as vineyard manager for a small winery that was subsequently bought by Duckhorn Vineyards of St. Helena, California, where he remained as a consultant.
Trujillo, meanwhile, grew up farming on a ranch in Colorado before working in Napa Valley, where he studied winemaking at the University of California, Davis. Afterward, Trujillo became an assistant winemaker, before making his mark as director of winemaking at Sequoia Grove Winery in Rutherford, California.
In 2004, Oak Knoll District was recognized as a subappellation of the Napa Valley American Viticultural Area, or AVA. That district contains 8,300 acres, located toward the south end of the valley at a relatively low elevation, on the valley floor – making it subject to the cool breezes and coastal fog of San Pablo Bay. (Although one would generally think it should be the other way around, the bay exerts a cooling influence farther south – at Carneros, say, or in the Oak Knoll District – whereas farther north in Napa Valley, the ambient temperature rises.)
Oak Knoll District’s climate yields higher acidity and elegant wines; it makes great chardonnays and reds, such as the Bordeaux, France, varietals. Materra focuses on the climate benefit to produce sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet sauvignon.
Merlot, a very popular grape, lost favor after Sideways, the 2004 American independent cinematic black comedy, shunned it. Known for being soft, ripe and elegant, most merlots make for easy drinking, whether paired (well) with food or on their own. Merlot ranks as the most-produced red grape in Bordeaux, as it blends very well with cabernet sauvignon to soften what can be harsh tannins.
Food Pairings: Drink good merlot! This fuller-flavored vintage pairs well with beef (pot roast, say, and steaks), blue cheese, grilled duck, lamb chops, mushrooms and good ol’ meatloaf.
Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne owns Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves and Downtown at the MX, as well as Snax Gastrobar in Lindenwood Park.