Andrew Murray fell in love with wine while in the Rhone Valley of France, learned to make wine in Australia and studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis before starting his own winery in Santa Ynez. Making only Rhone varieties, Andrew sources grapes from vineyards up and down California’s Central Coast, a region known for Syrah, Grenache and other Rhone varieties because of it’s Mediterranean type climate. Many of the grapes are sourced from steep, hillside vineyards. Andrew has garnered accolades from Robert Parker, Food and Wine Magazine and many others for not only his wine making but for his passion and dedication. In addition to the accolades, Andrew also garnered attention on the big screen when his wines were featured in the hit film “Sideways”. Andrews wines are big in flavor and alcohol, often going above 15%, and he’s not afraid to say it. He feels that to be commercially viable wines they need to be higher in alcohol because lower alcohol wines seem to get lost after higher alcohol wines. When not making his own wines, Andrew makes wines for Oak Savanna Vineyards where he can make some other wines that are not Rhone inspired. http://www.andrewmurrayvineyards.com/
I recently sat down with a group of wine enthusiasts to taste 5 of Andrews recent releases. In this post I will give our thoughts on the 2 Syrahs and in another post I will share what we thought on the 3 of the blends tasted.
2008 Tous les Jours Syrah- The name translates to “everyday” and could be drank that way. Aged for 11 months in new and used French oak barriques after the grapes were fermented in both open and closed top tanks. Sourcing grapes from vineyards in Paso Robles and Santa Ynez, this Central Coast bottling had aromas of red bell peppers and tobacco on the nose and was soft on the palate and had a long finish. Drinkable now it should get better with a couple years of aging. This wines was considered very good by the panel. 2,500 cases were produced of this wine and should retail for about $20.
2008 Terra Bella Vineyard Syrah- Making a mere 240 cases,this Paso Robles bottling comes from a hillside vineyard near Halter Ranch and Tablas Creek. A nice nose, this wine is big on fruit, thick and is a deep colored wine. With raspberries and blueberry nuances, this wine was aged at least 18 months in mostly new French oak barrels. Nice and balanced the group felt this was the best of the 5 wines tasted and a great deal at $36.
As I often blog about wine I occasionally I blog about films I get to preview before their release(See earlier posts). As most of you know me as a wine guy, I’m also a aspiring film producer and anytime I get to hear from other film industry professionals I jump at the opportunity.
This was the case when I got an invite to see the only Phoenix area preview of “The Way” that will be released on Oct. 7th. In addition to the preview actor Martin Sheen & the films writer/producer/director and actor Emilio Estevez were on hand to do Q & A session after the film. As this is a passion project for both of them, Phoenix was one of the 1st stops on a 50 day cross country pilgrimage on a bus to promote the film as, most passion projects are not on the radar of Hollywood movie executives in this day and age,sadly to say. So word of mouth and self promotion is a must if you want to get the film out to a wider audience.
The story starts in Ventura California where Tom (Martin Sheen)is a widowed opthamologist, who must take an unexpected trip to a town at the base of the Pyrenees mountains on the French-Spanish border. This is the starting point for the Camino de Santiago or “The Way of St. James” where pilgrims make a modern day journey through the Basque countryside on the way to the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostella. Tom decides to make the pilgrimage his son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) started but could not complete. Along the way Tom sets out alone and is very reserved. As there are many people making the pilgrimage for many reasons religious, personal or professional Tom has several run ins with others on the path, whether it’s a yarmulke wearing priest wearing or the joint smoking Dutchman, Yoost (Yorick Van Wageningen) who is doing it to lose weight. Tom slowly opens up and builds a bond with Yoost, Sarah(Deborah Kara Unger), a Canadian looking to quit smoking and Jack(James Nesbitt) a writer from Dublin who’s writing a book about The Camino. As they walk through vineyards, towns in the Basque countryside they realize they have more in common than their age and back rounds would suggest. When they stop for the night or just for a rest the Basque culture comes through as there is always a bottle of wine or two or three present with meals which leads to some interesting encounters with the locals. As they get closer to their destination they also get closer as a group having Tom’s back when he needs it. Although a drama with deeper meaning, there several lighter moments with laughter, which one often finds on our own journey through life.
During the Q & A after, we find not only was this a family affair with Martin and Emilio but Emilio’s son worked on it and married a woman he met on set and now lives in the town of Burgos, where some of the film was filmed. Martins daughter plays his office assistant in the opening scene.
Martin spoke of our sense of community, especially during these trying times and how a family reunion in Ireland in 2003 inspired the The Camino and asked Emilio to write a script. Emilio also spoke of his inspiration for the soundtrack which includes James Taylor and Alanis Morissette. Despite it’s small budget and crew some big performance’s come out and and hopefully the acting and writing will get the recognition they deserve. Not to mention the Basque countryside makes me want to put The Camino on my bucket list.
The film took on a personal feel for me as I viewed it it on Aug. 31, the anniversary of my grandfathers death and Emilio dedicated the film to his grandfathers memory. Make sure “The Way” is on your to do list when it comes out Oct. 7th, you’ll be glad you did. http://theway-themovie.com
Some grapes you may have heard of or wondered about……
CANAIOLO is a red grape found in central Italy mostly in Tuscany. It’s blended with Sangiovese to make Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
ARNEIS is a white grape found in the Piedmont region of Italy in the hills around the city of Alba and translates into “Little rascal”, named because it’s difficult to grow. It makes for a full bodied and dry wine with crisp and floral nuances.
CHENIN BLANC is a white grape found in the Loire Valley of France. It’s the grape used to make Vouvray and other AOC’s in Loire. In South Africa it’s called “STEEN“. It is also used to make sparkling wine in Loire and is called “Cremant de Loire”. It can also be found growing in California. Some think that it may be a parent grape to Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate Chenin can be dry to semi-sweet with minerals, apples and honey. It can be paired with numerous foods and know for its versatility.
In a continuing effort to familiarize people with lesser known varieties of grapes grown around the world I present you with this next installment.
PLOUSSARD also called POULSARD is a thin skinned grape found in the Jura region of eastern France. It’s light color makes it ideal for Vin Gris and even for making of white wines.
FRAPPATO is a red grape found mostly on the island of Sicily and is related to Sangiovese and other Italian varieties. It’s a lighter bodied wine with fruity aromas. Coincidentally, there is also a Italian white grape called FRAPPATO too.
AIREN is a white grape found mostly Spain and has the distinction of being the most widely grown grape in the world.
NORTON is native to North America and is a red grape found mostly in Mid Atlantic and Mid Western region of the United States. It’s the state grape of Missouri and widely planted in Virginia.
Brothers Charles and Stu Smith started their 37 acre vineyard a top Spring Mountain in 1971. With vineyards planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and most recently Cabernet Franc and Merlot they produce about 4,000 cases combined. One would expect them to build their reputation on Napa Valley staples of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, but at Smith-Madrone their known for their Riesling. The Riesling is considered to be on par with celebrated Riesling producers from around the world and is often on wine writers “best of” list each year. With breath taking views of Napa Valley the dry farmed vineyards are anywhere from 1,300-2,000 ft. above the valley floor. Doing almost everything themselves around the vineyards and winery Charles and Stu deserve the accolades they receive.
With 13 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in new American oak. It is neither fined or filtered. Soft and lush at the beginning, with good black cherry and currant fruit and medium tannins this wine has nice character and complexity. A long lingering finish on the back of the palate, “this is one of the best Cabs I’ve had all year” said my drinking companion. This is not a big Cab, with huge tannins but a Cab. with finesse and structure. With less than 1,500 cases of the 05 produced this bottle is a steal at approximately $45. If you can find it make sure you grab a bottle or 2 and while at it if you can find their Chardonnay or Riesling one should stock up on those too. www.smithmadrone.com
With an estimated 10,000+ varieties of grapes used to produce wine around the world, why are only familiar w/ a small portion of them. Some grapes grow in specific regions in the world, some are grown throughout the world. Some are used exclusively for blending and some are bottled by themselves. Some grapes are the same but called by different names in different parts of the world i.e. Shiraz & Syrah or Grenache & Garnacha.
In on going posts “What grape is that..” I will shed some light on lesser known varieties that are slowly making their way onto the international wine scene. Quite often we’ve tasted theses wines, but never knew what they were. Think about it, 10 years ago who knew what Gruner Veltliner, unless you were from Austria. Here we go……
GRILLO is a Sicilian white grape that is used in Marsala and some producers bottle it by itself and it makes for light, refreshing glass of wine. It should not be confused with the red grape GROLLEAU from the Loire Valley. This grape is often used for rose or blending. It also has a very unique taste profile.
TORRONTES from Argentina is white wine that is very aromatic on the nose and is starting to get some recognition in the U.S. after riding Malbecs coat tails.
Just a few wines for today. Continue to check back for other grapes/wines you may not have heard of.. yet!
With the winery dating back to the 1850s, the Rotta family has owned it since 1908. Grandson of founders, Mike Giubbini has been pulling the winery out of a dormant stage to revive some of the family traditions and replanted vines back in 1990. Planting mostly Zinfandel on their 20 acres of estate vineyards which is also dry farmed, they starting bottling under the Rotta name back in 2002 after years of selling grapes to nearby wineries. Focusing on mostly red wines they also purchase grapes from local vineyards mostly on the Westside of Paso Robles and Templeton area. I’ve been told that the following wine is the only vineyard designate Cabernet Franc from California.
The 06 Dino Boneso Cabernet Franc is light colored garnet to the eye and and pretty on the nose with hints of cherry fruit and spices. Spicy and soft on the palate, its medium tannins linger and are worthy of the many accolades this wine has garnered. Dry on the finish it has a nice mouth feel and is not to overpowering. Limited in production this wine would go well with both grilled and/or roasted meats and wild game. suggested retail should be under $25 for this treat. www.rottawinery.com
As grapes are living, breathing organisms they have DNA just like us humans. And also like us humans, grapes have traceable ancestry. Parent grapes, going back to the country of origin and finding relative grapes have become a science. Plavac Mali (pronounced Pla-Vatz Malee)had been thought to be a parent of Zinfandel, but has been found to be offspring of Zinfandel. The Zinfandel grape which has been considered an “American grape” has been widely thought to be the same as Italian grape Primitivo, from the southern part of Italy. DNA testing shows that the Zinfandel ancestry relates to the Croatian grape Plavac Mali and grown in vineyards along the Dalmatian coast. All are related though none are identical.
With the help of Mike Grgich, owner of Grgich Hills winery in Napa Valley & born in Croatia, DNA testing shows that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel are not the same grape but related and that Zinfandel could actually be parent, along with Dobricic, to Plavac Mali. DNA tests show that Zinfandel is actually the Croatian grape Crljenak.
Plavac Mali translates into “small blue” and refers to the grape itself, which tends to be lighter in body than Zinfandel. Milos Plavac Mali is one of Croatia’s most respected producers of the grape. Making only about 2,500 cases of Plavac Mali, winemaker/owner Frano Milos doesn’t manipulate the wine and uses only natural yeast before aging the wine 1 year in oak then, 2 years in the bottle before release.Garnet to the eye it’s spicy with good fruit you can see the relation to Zinfandel. Cherry and currant flavors evolve along with a smoky flavor that screams for wild game or a beef roast pairing. With a 12.8% alcohol level it’s not over powering or “hot” as we say. It should retail for between $20-$25. With the popularity of Croatian wines in the United States in recent years don’t be surprised if you see this delicious wine on restaurant wine lists and wine retailers shelves.
Reference: Meredith, Dr. Carole “Looking for Zinfandel in Croatia” in Zinfandel Express January 2002.
Whether your a consumer, restauranteur or wine retailer you’re always on the search for the perfect bottle of wine, well I’m here to tell you like Santa Claus & the Easter Bunny, it doesn’t exist. Whether I was selling wine to consumers or wine buyers I’ve come across many who spend way to much time looking, tasting & researching for that perfect bottle. What I find interesting is many are those who are looking in the under $10 price point. With wine being subjective, everybody has their opinion on what a wine should be and what perfection is. I remember working with one restauranteur who was looking for a Pinot Noir for his by the glass list for months and tasted him on almost every one in my portfolio, and after he tasted with me and other sales people he finally made a decision. Fortunately for me it was one I showed him. Another was still considering a $6.50 bottle of red for over 6 weeks, that they had already mentioned they liked. Searching for the perfect wine is the motivation for many consumers & buyers.
Nowadays there are is an ocean wine on the market from all over the globe, and more on the way, so it’s no wonder that people think that perfection is somewhere out there a drift. So for those of you that are on the search, just keep in mind it’s not the destination but the journey.