Cannonball Merlot 2014, Sonoma County
Cost: $15-17
S ometimes when you want something done right you have to take matters into your own hands. That’s just what two wine lovers did when they created Cannonball Wine Co.
Dennis Hill and Yoav Gilat were fed up with overpriced wines, so they decided to join forces to make serious wines that didn’t take themselves too seriously. Hill was a respected wine maker and Gilat had 20 years experience in consumer goods and beverages, so they didn’t rush off into anything blindly.
What they created more than met their goals of respectable wine at affordable prices.

The Cannonball merlot is a very nice presentation of the grape, very much in a Bordeaux style. It is a deep garnet color in the glass with rich, complex aromas of dried cherries, black plum, chocolate and spice. It is a full-bodied wine that fills up your mouth with an explosion of flavors. The texture is smooth and seamless, leading to a long, supple finish.
The grapes are sourced from the Hill family’s sustainably farmed estate vineyard, Adam & Eve, in the northern Russian River Valley, as well as some favorite vineyards in Sonoma Valley.
This vintage is 91 percent merlot blended with small amounts of petite sirah and syrah for complexity.
The grapes were cold soaked before yeast inoculation and fermentation. The juice then was pressed and seeds were removed.
The cannonball icon on the label represents the inner child in all of us, a time when the only point was to have fun. That’s something many of us adults seem to have forgotten.
Hill was the founding winemaker for Blackstone merlot, a favorite among merlot lovers. He specializes in bringing out the best in merlot grapes.
Winery: Joining Hill’s winemaking experience and grower relationships with Gilat’s business acumen and vision, Cannonball was born in 2006 with one varietal, cabernet sauvignon.
The wine was popular, so the company expanded into chardonnay, followed by merlot with the 2007 vintage and then sauvignon blanc. All were from Sonoma County grapes.
After a meeting with a representative in Toronto, Cannonball joined forces with highly-acclaimed Astrolabe Wines from New Zealand. Cannonball became the exclusive U.S. agent for Astrolabe. Those wines brought critical acclaim and notoriety within the sommelier network.

By 2014 the partners were ready for another collaboration, this time with award-winning graphic designer Michael Schwab, who had designed the Cannonball labels. The vision for the style of wine, the name and the artwork all came together and Angels & Cowboys was born.
The plan was to produce a Sonoma County proprietary red label for a Zinfandel based wine. But the partners loved rosé so they produced a handful of cases for fun. They sold out so quickly and received so much acclaim both the red and the rosé became established stars in the portfolio.
In 2016 the partners decided to pull all their brands together under one umbrella, Share A Splash Wine Co. Their wines are in 45 U.S. and 20 international markets.
This year they launched the High Dive label with a high end red blend.
The winery is rooted in Healdsburg, home to winemaker and co-founder Hill. His long-term relationships with owners of some of the finest vineyards in the region give him access to great grapes.
Hill is called the wizard of winemaking by his friends. After harvest Hill and his team do all the blending, giving the wines a handcrafted style and consistency from year to year. They work their magic in a state of the art facility in wine country, but the business office is in Palo Alto.
This is an explanation of the name from the company website:
“The Cannonball dive is a dive for the people.  It doesn’t discriminate against body type, race, religion, political affiliation, social status, or fashion sense.  And if you’ve never done a Cannonball then you’d better just shut down this computer, go find a body of water, and dive in!  
“When you’re jumping into the water on a beautiful summer day, with nothing on your mind except leaping high, balling up tight, and making a splash that is going to get as many people wet as possible, that moment you’re in the air might be the best feeling you can have with your swimsuit on…
“We’re serious about quality, honesty, and enjoying life.  And, we’re dead serious about spreading our love and passion for wine by offering great wines at great prices.  That means we want every wine you taste from us to be a WOW wine.”  
Michael loved the Cannonball Merlot with Beef Stroganoff.

Goes with: We had the Cannonball merlot with beef Stroganoff, and it was a wonderful pairing. The rich flavor of the beef in a creamy sauce served over noodles seemed even better with the complex, rich fruit flavors of the wine.
I asked for ideas of what we might have for dinner in the weeks ahead and my wife Teri suggested beef Stroganoff. I dutifully made it the next day.
This is an easy meal to make, and I had forgotten how much I love it.
This merlot also would pair well with red meat, such as a ribeye steak, duck, grilled chicken, or other pasta with rich sauces.
[box type=”shadow”]Beef Stroganoff
1.5 pounds beef sirloin or top round steak cut in 1/2 inch strips
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Morton Nature’s Seasons
1/4 cup butter
1.5 cups beef broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 cups sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon paprika
1 package large egg noodles
Saute mushrooms, onions, garlic and Morton Nature’s Seasons in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally until onions are tender. Pour into a bowl.
Cook the beef in the same skillet until brown. (You can coat the beef in flour before cooking, but it is easier to leave off the flour.) Stir in 1 cup of broth, salt, Worcestershire sauce and heat to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir flour into remaining 1/2 cup of broth, and add to the beef mixture, stirring as you add it. Add the onion mixture, heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil for about a minute. Then stir in the sour cream, heavy cream, sherry and paprika. Heat until hot, but do not boil. Serve over warm noodles.[/box]

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