Wine of the Week: Paul Mathew Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley, Alegria Vineyard Cabernet Franc

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Restaurantgoers sipping a glass of wine don’t need to utter a word to give their take on a wine. A smile, a grimace, a shrug or a nod is all that’s needed to signal their wine review.

When Mat Gustafson was in college he was a sommelier at the Flagstaff House, a high-profile restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, and he made a habit of monitoring his guests’ expressions to get a sense of their likes and dislikes,

“You can see it on their face — how they’re reacting to the wine,” he said.

Of course, Gustafson said, if people were crazy about a wine, they would wax poetic.

Learning people’s preferences has also helped him hone his craft as a winemaker of cab franc, among other varietals.

Gustafson is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — Paul Mathew Vineyards 2016 Russian River Valley, Alegria Vineyard Cabernet Franc at $29.

What makes this cab franc a standout is its silky texture, crisp cherry flavors and subtle savory notes. While it didn’t win the highest score in the tasting, it snagged the wine-of-the-week title because it offers a great price for this caliber of wine.

Cab franc — well known as a blending grape in the Bordeaux lineup — is becoming more popular as a solo varietal.

“It’s been taking off over the last five years,” Gustafson said. “Things usually start on the coasts with the younger generation open to new varietals. The sommeliers from San Francisco are telling us they want our cab franc. I’m assuming their customers are on the younger side at restaurants in the city.”

Gustafson, 60, has a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management from Northwood Institute in Michigan. He also has a degree in political science from the University of Colorado Boulder, graduating in 1987.

Today he produces Paul Mathew Vineyards and has a tasting room in Graton. To keep pace with the popularity of mainstream varietals, Gustafson has figured out his niche.

“Since we’re doing 100 percent cab franc, the real style we’re aiming for is Chinon from the Loire Valley,” Gustafson said. “Trying to compete in the wine industry today is very hard, so making a style that nobody else is doing makes it easier to sell.”

Chinon tends to be gamy, complex and have a strong tannic backbone. It also has mineral and spice in the mix, developing a velvety texture over time.

“We compete by making a unique style for California,” Gustafson said. “I think I realized after a while people judge a wine more by its texture than anything else.”

Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at or 707-521-5310.

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