Wine of the week: Elysian Collection 2016 California Merlot

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THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Supple Merlots Turning Heads

TOP PICK: Bonterra’s Elysian Collection

Bonterra’s Elysian Collection, 2016 California Merlot, 13.6% alcohol, $25. ★★★★: This is a seamless merlot with a range of flavors — raspberry, black plum and mineral. Bright, balanced and supple. Made with organic grapes. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES:

Rutherford Ranch, 2016 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $26. ★★★★: A pretty merlot weighted to red fruit — Bing cherries. Layered notes of blueberry, sage and toast, with a kiss of vanilla on the finish.

Flora Springs, 2016 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.2%, $30. ★★★★: Striking, with bright red fruit — raspberry and pomegranate. It has layered notes of cocoa, toast and mineral. Supple texture. Well crafted.

Whitehall Lane, 2015 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.6%, $28. ★★★★: Great structure coupled with bright red fruit. Supple texture, with ripe tannins. Layered notes of toast and tobacco in the mix. Nice length.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, 2016 Indian Wells Merlot, 14.5%, $18. ★★★1/2: An approachable merlot with tasty blackberry jam riding on an undercurrent of spice. Balanced with bright acid. Solid.

It’s the tension within merlot that makes it compelling: the duality, the polar opposites of soft and structured teasing each other out.

“The tension works really well, and it’s why the wines of the Right Bank in Bordeaux have been so successful for so long,” said Jeff Cichocki, winemaker of Bonterra. “Merlot is a varietal that invites rather than demands your attention.”

Cichocki is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Elysian Collection 2016 California Merlot at $25. This is a seamless merlot with a range of flavors — raspberry, black plum and mineral. It’s bright, balanced and supple. Crafted from organic grapes, this merlot is impressive.

Cichocki said the house style for merlot at Bonterra is balance coupled with restraint. He credits his organic and biodynamic sites for delivering balanced fruit.

“At Bonterra, we are really focused on our vineyards, all of which we farm organically and about a quarter of which carry biodynamic certification,” he said.

Organic farming demands forbearance, and Cichocki said it just so happens he’s a patient man.

“We have to get to know our vines over time and understand how to bring them the balance they need to thrive without all the tools nonorganic farming makes available,” he said.

Cichocki, 50, earned a degree in environmental studies from Sonoma State University and joined Bonterra in 2007. His Wine Country credits include Healdsburg’s Mill Creek Winery, Santa Rosa’s Matanzas Creek Winery, St. Helena’s Cakebread Cellars, Glen Ellen’s B.R. Cohn and Hopland’s Jeriko Estate Winery.

“My first harvest, working for the Kreck family at Mill Creek Winery on Westside Road, was my first glimpse into the entire winemaking process, and I was hooked,” Cichocki said.

Crafting wine comes down to a series of decisions, with the most challenging to pick or not to pick, the winemaker said.

“Merlot can be a challenge and tastes green when underripe, and on the other end, it can become raisinated, with cooked aromas and flavors if you let it hang too long,” Cichocki explained.

The Elysian, he said, finds the middle ground. It’s a striking merlot with a label that’s turning heads — on the front of the bottling is a sheep surrounded by organic vines.

“In every way it’s a disruptive take on a traditional varietal,” Cichocki said, “The number of hours it took to illustrate the sheep would blow your mind. It was an excruciatingly beautiful undertaking.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com and 707-521-5310.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Supple Merlots Turning Heads

TOP PICK: Bonterra’s Elysian Collection

Bonterra’s Elysian Collection, 2016 California Merlot, 13.6% alcohol, $25. ★★★★: This is a seamless merlot with a range of flavors — raspberry, black plum and mineral. Bright, balanced and supple. Made with organic grapes. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES:

Rutherford Ranch, 2016 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.5%, $26. ★★★★: A pretty merlot weighted to red fruit — Bing cherries. Layered notes of blueberry, sage and toast, with a kiss of vanilla on the finish.

Flora Springs, 2016 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.2%, $30. ★★★★: Striking, with bright red fruit — raspberry and pomegranate. It has layered notes of cocoa, toast and mineral. Supple texture. Well crafted.

Whitehall Lane, 2015 Napa Valley Merlot, 14.6%, $28. ★★★★: Great structure coupled with bright red fruit. Supple texture, with ripe tannins. Layered notes of toast and tobacco in the mix. Nice length.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, 2016 Indian Wells Merlot, 14.5%, $18. ★★★1/2: An approachable merlot with tasty blackberry jam riding on an undercurrent of spice. Balanced with bright acid. Solid.

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