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1999 Medlock Ames Merlot, Alexander Valley, Sonoma

I'm happy to bring you another small winemaker who has just set up shop in the southern part of Alexander Valley. Medlock Ames is a collaboration between two lifelong friends Christopher Medlock James and Ames Morison, who recently decided to follow their dream to become winemakers. Their story is not unlike many of the new boutique winemakers entering the market -- a desire to make great wine, a respect for the past coupled with a desire to innovate.

These new winemakers typically fall into one of two groups -- those who start by buying their grapes on the market or through a contract with a grower, and those who are fortunate enough to be able to purchase an existing estate or a new plot to be planted. Medlock Ames falls into this second category. Christopher and Ames selected a prime piece of real estate in the southern part of the Chalk Hill property in Sonoma which is known by some as Bell Mountain.

With this property, meticulously mapped into distinct blocks with a precision that smacks of a background in architecture or design (which I don't know if either of them have), these two friends have built a winery in record time. This, their inaugural vintage (crushed at Stonestreet while they worked on their winery) is a solid one, and this Merlot is the better of the two wines they released. It is 100% Merlot aged in French Oak, and in my opinion, is better than their 2000 Merlot, which is also on the market.

It's clear from their logo, packaging, Web site, and pricing, that Medlock Ames is attempting to enter the market at a premium position, and I'd say they're fairly on their way to succeeding. They're a slick operation, which is only acceptable if they actually make good wine, and I'm happy to say that they do. 658 cases made.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is dark garnet colored in the glass, and has a nose that is a little to overwhelming with its aromas of oak, vanilla, and bright cherry. Hopefully some of this sweet oak aroma will dissipate as the wine ages, because the body of the wine is properly balanced despite the nose. It displays big lush plum and cherry fruit flavors with a clean and lasting finish that lacks the green bitterness that can creep its way into bad Sonoma Merlot.

Food Pairing:
The winemaker suggests this wine be paired with baked clams and prosciutto.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $40

As these guys are fairly under the radar, their wine is only available through the winery's site.

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