Saturday, February 02, 2008

Murphy's Law

March 7th Column {Josh - make sure the wines come out in bold so that they stand out}

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I decided to get out of Dodge and do some wine tasting. So we headed to Murphys.

Murphys is an exceedingly cute, quaint little gold country town near Angels Camp (you know, of Mark Twain/Jumping Frog fame). It has also become an honest to God (Allah, Vishnu... take your pick) wine destination.

And for a number of good reasons.

First of all, as I said, it is an incredibly cute, tiny little town full of gold rush era buildings and country charm. Second, in an eight block area, it seemingly has more top quality restaurants than all of Chico . And third, that same eight block area contains over a dozen winery tasting rooms.

Where else can you go where you can visit a dozen wineries, eat at a fine restaurant, and then stagger back to your hotel room without having to hop in your Escalade and endanger the lives of all the peons on the road?

It's an ideal spot to spend a quick weekend wine tasting, and we had a wonderful time.

Ah, but what about the wines? I managed to taste – and take (often strangely illegible) notes on – 66 different wines in three days. Not bad. At that rate, I'll have my Certified Wino card in no time.

Sadly, I wasn't too impressed with the wines overall, though there were a few standouts. I was actually more impressed with the whites than the reds, an oddity that I'm at a loss to explain. The average score of all the wines I tasted was 2.6 stars, an emphatic “just OK”. No wine scored 4 stars or more, an indication of plenty of “room for improvement”.

Stevenot
For the most part, very worth missing, except for their 2006 Persuasion, made from the white Verdelho grape (a new one on me too). Very floral and buttery on the nose, with smooth, creamy, floral flavors that hint of sweetness. 3.25 stars.

Solomon
Overall, I'd have to say that this is one of the best wineries in the region, making some of the most interesting and complex wines I tasted. Solomon 2005 Seity Zinfandel - Clean, light, spicy cherry fruit on the nose with a hint of cinnamon. Nice smooth flavors, not too big or boozy. My kind of zin. 3.5 stars. Solomon 2004 Muse Mingle - A very simple, fun pizza wine. Extremely fruity, bubblegum and cherry aromas. Tons of cherry and berry flavors. Fun. 3.0 stars.

Milliare

Another of the many so-so wineries, but I was impressed by their 2006 Gew├╝rztraminer. Very floral, with tropical and papaya aromas. Very crisp with a light touch of sweetness on the tongue. 3.0 stars.

Newsome-Harlow
Very nice people and a pleasant place to taste, but again, with mostly "eh" wines, except for another white, their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc . Very complex citrus and floral elements on the nose, with citrus and apricot flavors and a very smooth, clean finish. 3.0 stars.

Lavender Ridge
This was the other winery that impressed me. Good selection of Rhone varieties, both red and white. 2006 Cotes de Calaveras Blanc - A blend white Rhone varieties, very perfumed aroma with hints of lemon. very light and refreshing with apricot and peach flavors. 3.0 stars. 2005 Mourvedre - complex and earthy on the nose, with bright red raspberry flavors. Good balance and smooth finish. 3.5 stars.

Hatcher
This place was hopping with huge crowds, all being served by the one man band of Sewell Hatcher. This place is worth a visit just to see him juggle bottles and tipsy customers. Overall, the wines here were a cut above average. 2006 Viognier - light with a hint of citrus on the nose, light and almost sweet on the tongue with hints of honey and nectarine. 3.0 stars. 2006 'Quinn the Eskimo' Ice Wine - All honey and apricots on the nose, with intensely sweet light flavors, hinting of clover honey and vanilla. Yummy! 3.75 stars.

Frog's Tooth
Run by Gary and Larry, this is a brand new winery and one of the most promising. Their 2005 Tempranillo was particularly notable with a complex, earthy nose, and clean, bright red fruit flavors. Tannins are a bit aggressive now, but it benefit from cellaring. 3.75 stars.

Ironstone
This place is clearly the Microsoft of Murphy's wineries. A couple of miles outside of downtown, this place is absolutely huge. Six stories of winery, tasting room, test kitchens, concert venues, jewelry shops and museums (including a 44 pound hunk of gold). You'd expect a place like this to have overtly simple and commercial wines, but actually many of them were better made than those at the boutique wineries. 2006 Verdelho – Light and tropical nose, with crisp lemon peel and grapefruit flavors. 3.0 stars. 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc – Spicy, green pepper aromas, with bright red fruit flavors, with an undercurrent of earthy green veggies. 3.25 stars.

Overall, though it's no Napa Valley wine-wise, Murphys get's two solid wine glasses up as a place to visit. We had some great meals there, tasted some decent wines, and just had a good, and affordable time.

As Arnold would say, “ve'll be back”.

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