2014 Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, Sonoma County

A brilliant straw color in the glass. Wood scents of smoke and vanilla join with butter notes from full malolactic fermentation to neatly frame the plump peach, sweet lemon, and tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Quite mouth-filling, it has a juicy acid underpinning. The flavors follow through to a lingering fruit cobbler finish.
In the mid-1980s, a lush, buttery style of Chardonnay from California took the wine world by storm. Matanzas Creek was in the vanguard of this Chardonnay revolution. Fast-forward 30 years, and nothing has changed – and that’s a good thing.
A great sipper on its own, it can also pair well with cream and butter-based entrées.
MSRP: $26 (August 2016)
Wine Lines rating: 90

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2015 Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County

This winery was one of the first to lay claim to making a world-class Sauvignon Blanc in California some three decades ago. Time passes, and… nothing has changed. The grapes for this bottling are sourced from around 40 parcels of the best grapes in the county. A light shade of hay in the glass, the nose opens up to exhibit layered aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest, white nectarine, white flowers, herbs, and apples. A dollop of Sémillon adds weight and roundness in the mouth. Juicy acidity stimulates the palate and begs for the next sip. Take note of the winemaker’s name, Maria Torres-Forno – you will be hearing much more from her. As we suffer through these blistering summer temperatures, a refreshing white is the perfect wine. This is all that, and more. Bring out the ceviche and fresh oysters on the half-shell, and enjoy.
MSRP: $22 (August 2016)
Wine Lines rating: 90

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These Snakes Won’t Bite: The Return of Diamondback Vineyards

By Bob Johnson

Diamondback is back.

John Quinones introduced Diamondback with the 1999 vintage, and kept the label going for three additional vintages. Being a full-time winemaker left little time for his own project, however, so Quinones retired the label.

But as with the Eagles (remember the “Hell Freezes Over Tour”?) and Brett Favre (remember his stints with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings?), “retirement” did not mean “forever” when it came to the Diamondback label. It’s now back with two outstanding wines from the 2012 harvest and two from the 2014 harvest.

“My goal for Diamondback Vineyards is to utilize the diverse experience I’ve gained as a winemaker over the last 30 years, and focus on sourcing special vineyard sites that have the ideal climate, soil type and exposure to bring out the best in a specific varietal,” explains Quinones.

“The wines will be handcrafted in small lots, with careful attention paid to every detail,” he adds. “The focus will be on showcasing the unique fruit characteristics of each specific site. The winemaking techniques will be designed to maximize site expression, and will vary accordingly.”

 

QuinonesHolman

Above: John Quinones (left) with bowling legend Marshall Holman, who will lead Diamondback’s sales and marketing efforts. (Photo by Michelle Johnson)

 

Why Diamondback for the label’s name?

“I had been doing a lot of consulting,” Quinones says. “Wherever the best [Cabernet Sauvignon] grew — hot, dry, mountainous — there were rattlesnakes.”

The consulting gigs came about because of the sterling reputation Quinones had developed, first with Lyeth Estate Winery, and later with Clos Pegase Winery.

Quinones joined Lyeth, a Bordeaux specialist in Sonoma County, fresh out of college. A fellow student at U.C. Davis got a job at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley at the same time, and they’d often compare notes.

“Lyeth and Mondavi were the top places at the time,” Quinones recalls, “yet they were making wine in an entirely different way. At Lyeth, we’d cold-soak, sometimes for six or seven days. And we’d minimize pumpovers, trying to retain as much of the natural flavor as possible, and to avoid the harsh, gritty tannins.”

Quinones adds that eight to 10 years later he’d taste the Lyeth and Mondavi wines side by side, “and the Mondavi tannins never went away.”

Interestingly, the Lyeth wines he made “didn’t do great in California, but they sold like gangbusters on the East Coast because they were more Bordeaux-like.” Mondavi wines remain among the most popular in the marketplace.

From Lyeth, Quinones went to Napa Valley’s Clos Pegase, where landing a wine among Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” one year cemented his reputation as a skilled vintner, and opened the door to numerous consulting opportunities.

But unlike some vintners, Quinones did not enjoy the limelight. What gave him the greatest satisfaction was simply making great wine. So, he decided to escape the “glare” of the Napa Valley and re-locate to the peace and tranquility of southern Oregon, where he’s the winemaker for RoxyAnn Winery. There, he can focus on what he enjoys: crafting “world-class wines with complexity and varietal expression that capture the essence of southern Oregon.”

There are four wines currently available from Diamondback, two from the 2012 vintage, and two from 2014.

There are four wines currently available from Diamondback, two from the 2012 vintage, and two from 2014. The Port comes in a 500-ml. bottle.

He has a nearly identical goal for Diamondback, although the fruit sourcing figures to be a bit more widespread.

For instance, one current release is the 2014 “Manchester Ridge” Pinot Noir from California’s Mendocino Ridge growing area. The 13-acre vineyard is perched on a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, some 2,000 feet above sea level. It’s a site with which Quinones has worked in the past.

A bit austere at the time we tasted it in June, the wine has everything it takes to be rich, full and mouthfilling. Quinones calls it “the ultimate swing wine” as a food companion. “It doesn’t stand up to steak,” he says, “but it’s a great burger wine.”

The other release from the 2014 vintage is the “Oregon” Chardonnay, made entirely from grapes grown in the RoxyAnn Vineyard in the Rogue Valley.

“There wasn’t a lot of Chardonnay in southern Oregon when I got here, and this vineyard had a lot of Dijon clones,” Quinones says. “We brought in some different clones that are better suited for the vineyard. The wine spent 14 months on the lees — almost twice as long as I’ve ever done — to get that rich, creamy mouthfeel without sugar. Eighty percent of the oak was new; I use oak not for wood flavors, but for wood sugars.”

The wine is Burgundian in style, but you can almost feel in “thickening” in the mouth as it opens up. I’d suspect “prime time” for this wine would be right around Christmas 2016.

It isn’t “fashionable” to get excited about Merlot these days, but the 2014 Diamondback “Rogue Valley” Merlot is a wine that could help change that. As Quinones notes, the Rogue Valley experiences the same number of growing days as the Carneros region that straddles southern Napa and Sonoma counties, and Carneros is noted for producing expressive Merlot. “With the season the way it is here, the Merlot is actually bigger than the Cabernet,” Quinones says. “In Napa and Sonoma and most other places where the varieties are grown, Cabernet is used in blends to boost Merlot. Here, Merlot is used to boost Cabernet.”

Diamondback’s other current release is the 2012 “Bella Forte,” a Port-style dessert wine that is among the best I’ve ever tasted. That John Quinones would craft such an incredibly flavorful wine of this type should come as no surprise. Earlier in his career, through relationships with barrel manufacturers, he was able to visit three of the great Port houses: Warre’s, Graham’s and Sandeman.

“The people there took me in, and basically showed me the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Port-making,” Quinones says. As a result, RoxyAnn presently has a “Port project” underway — a one-acre portion of the estate vineyard devoted exclusively to Port varietals. The 2012 vintage is 53% Touriga Nacional and 47% Tinta Cao, resulting in a sweet (but not at all cloying) wine that’s brimming with berry flavors.

“This is the best port I’ve ever made, and I’ve made them every year for 30 years,” Quinones enthuses.

So, how does one go about obtaining Diamondback wines? Well, there is no website (although a Google search could take you to the site of Diamondback’s first iteration, which has been long dormant). There also is no wine club. But there is this new-fangled invention called a telephone, and Quinones would welcome a call to his office at 541-500-8287. You also are welcome to call his partner in the “new” Diamondback venture, Marshall Holman, at 541-261-6704. In fact, Holman is in charge of sales and marketing.

If the name Marshall Holman sounds familiar, you could be a bowler… or a bowling fan. Holman is one of the greatest players in the history of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, known for his pin-splitting power and fiery demeanor. As one of only two “wine and bowling writers” on the planet — the other being Wine Lines Online’s own Glen Frederiksen — I can tell you that Holman has always been passionate about everything he does.

“I’m a passion-driven guy,” Holman says. “That’s a key ingredient for me to be successful in anything. That’s what killed my bowling game; I burned real hot, then I lost my love for the competition. At 61, it’s fun to have passion for something new. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

You can read more about Holman’s involvement in the project in the just-out issue (August 2016) of Bowlers Journal International magazine.

As for the return of Diamondback, Quinones sees it as an opportunity to stretch his skills without risking someone else’s capital.

“With these wines, I kind of pushed the envelope,” he explains. “But I’ve never had a great wine that some people wouldn’t like. If everyone likes it, it’s not a standout.”

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2012 Diamondback Vineyards ‘Bella Forte’, Gold Vineyard, Oregon

This Port-style dessert wine can’t be labeled “Port” because it wasn’t made in Portugal. But trust us: If you love “the real thing,” you’ll love this Oregon version, crafted by a vintner (John Quinones) who was educated by Portugal’s top Port-makers. Berry aromas — blackberry, boysenberry, black raspberry — jump from the glass, and the flavors match the aromas as the wine coats the mouth in preparation for a long and sweet (and not even slightly hot) finish. One of the top 10 “Ports” — from Portugal or otherwise — we’ve ever tasted.

MSRP: $60 (per 500-ml. bottle)

Wine Lines rating: 96

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2012 Diamondback Vineyards Merlot, Rogue Valley

Bigger than most California Merlots, this wine is alluring from its aroma (cherries, blackberries) to its flavors (currants, more berries and cherries) to its finish (vanilla, mocha and still more fruit).

MSRP: $75 (August 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 91

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2014 Diamondback Vineyards ‘Manchester Ridge’ Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge

If it’s a sleek and silky Pinot Noir you seek, look elsewhere. If you like your red wines big, bold and full-bodied, you’ve come to the right place. This Pinot is brimming with raspberry and strawberry flavors, presented within a lush mouthfeel that makes it ideal for serving with a grilled or broiled burger.

MSRP: $65 (August 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 91

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2014 Diamondback Vineyards Chardonnay, Oregon

A first impression of bright apple gives way to kiwi and tropical fruit notes as this fresh and creamy wine opens up. Still a “toddler,” Burgundian in mouthfeel, and gradually transforming into a more viscous style of Chardonnay. The finish is long and satisfying.

MSRP: $48 (August 2016)

Wine Lines rating: 90

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2013 Matanzas Creek Merlot, Sonoma County

Opaque purple/black hue. With a good swirl and sniff, complex aromas of fleshy black cherries (with a touch of Maraschino cherry liqueur) flow forth, followed by blackberry, blue berries, sweet plum, an herbal note, and a dusting of cocoa powder. It is medium-full in the mouth, displaying integrated tannins. As it slides to a lingering finish, it picks up slick graphite and black licorice. This is a worthy successor to over three decades of outstanding vintages of the Sonoma county Merlot.
MSRP: $28 (July 2016)
Wine Line rating: 90

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2014 La Crema Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Brilliant medium straw color. The welcoming nose delivers brash Meyer lemon zest, followed by light white-fleshed fruits, all neatly wrapped in spiced butter and cream. It’s palate-coating, with a long, mineral-driven finish that echoes the rich butter and cream. Smooth and delicious from first sip to last.
MSRP: $23 (July 2016)
Wine Lines rating: 89

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2014 La Crema Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Translucent coral red color, with glints of orange. Unlike many California Pinot Noirs, who sport 15% alcohol and present more like a bruising Syrah, this shows a lighter, more feminine profile. The aromas include notes of sharp strawberry, cherry cola, a whiff of black tea, and a light dusting of cocoa powder. Lithe in the mouth, it picks up notes of cranberry flavor and shows a moderate, fine grip at mid-palate. This is a fine bistro red, ready for lunch or picnic fare.
MSRP: $25 (July 2016)
Wine Lines rating: 88

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