Monday, July 16, 2018

FOCUS ON: MURRIETA'S WELL Estate Vineyard, Livermore Valley CA

You would be forgiven if you're not familiar with Livermore Valley, CA. Nestled inland from the San Francisco Bay, it is overshadowed by its famous neighbors to the north, Napa and Sonoma. But winemaking has been happening there since Spanish missionaries planted grapes in the 1760s!

Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the 1840s, lending his name to the region. In 1883, Wente and Concannon vineyards were founded, and they remain two of the most "famous" producers from Livermore. In 1982, Livermore Valley was granted its AVA (American Viticultural Area designation, in recognition of a worthy sub-regional title,) and there are currently over 50 wineries operating in Livermore Valley. But Livermore Valley still seems to be off the radar for many Wineaux.

I recently had an opportunity to taste a number of offerings from Murrieta's Well Estate Vineyard, and if they are any indication, that lack of awareness is about to change!

To begin with, this estate was created with cuttings from the renowned vineyards of Château Margaux and Château d'Yquem in France. Louis Mel planted the vines and built a gravity-flow winery in 1884; it's where the current tasting room is located. In 1933, Mel sold the vineyard to his friend Ernest Wente, and it has been a part of the Wente family estate ever since. Murrieta's Well winemaker Robbie Meyer is passionate about the high quality of grapes grown on the estate vineyards, and is especially effusive regarding his blends, where he can exercise his "artistic touch."

2017 Murrieta's Well Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc
Citrus notes of lemon and grapefruit, banana, pineapple and papaya tropical fruits, with green apple, green plum, and grass, and a ginger/shortbread element from time in neutral oak. A lot going on, but bracing acidity keeps it fresh. ~$35.

2016 Murrieta's Well "The Whip" White Blend (33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat, 10% Viognier)
Those aromatic varieties in the blend show up immediately on the nose, lending orange blossom and jasmine, moving into green apple, underripe pear, lemon and grapefruit, wet stone minerality, some secondary notes of light vanilla and spice from oak, and cream from MLF.  ~$26.

2015 Murrieta's Well Dry Rosé
This is as friendly and delish a summertime sipper as you could hope for. Strawberry, Rome apple, and watermelon fruit is balanced with sage, iodine, and minerals, with a cherry-lime rickey scenario going on. Yum, yum, yum. A couple of us wanted to grab the rest of the bottle and haul it to the beach pronto! ~$30.

2015 Murrieta's Well "The Spur" Red Blend (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc)
This wine deftly fits that elusive spot between complex and approachable: cassis, black cherry, black raspberries, cedar, rosemary, black pepper, chocolate, mocha, lavender, earthy minerality, with present but silky tannins, it is intense and integrated, but doesn't knock you over the head. One of my faves, and an excellent value at ~$35.

2015 Murrieta's Well Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec) pre-release
(FYI, CA labelling laws permit the wine to be labelled with a single varietal if that grape comprises at least 75% of the blend.)
My guests went nuts over this wine! They agreed it provided much more of the expected "California Cab" character: intense and velvety, blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, black pepper, dark chocolate, barnyard, peat, violets, toasted wood, with a little prune thrown in there. Deep but not too heavy. Someone throw a steak on the grill for this baby, and make sure to grab a few bottles when it becomes available, you'll definitely want to watch it evolve over the next 8-10 years. ~$58

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Regular readers know I routinely champion wines from less-well-known regions -- while California is obviously very well-known, smaller areas like Livermore Valley are clearly worth exploring. Especially if you are a fan of nearby Napa's Sauv Blancs and Cabs, pick up a few of Murrieta's Well wines, and enjoy their power and elegance at a pretty competitive price point!


Wines provided for review by

Saturday, March 24, 2018

JORDAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON: Bottles vs. Magnum Showdown!

To age, or not to age, that is the question. Well, that's not Hamlet's question, but many wine lovers do wonder if and how long they should age their wines. It is common knowledge among Wineaux that well-crafted red wines with a lot of structure are "bred" to age, like first-growth Bordeaux, fine Barolos, and so on. But it can be a guessing game; age a wine too long, and it will, sadly, "die." 


Nerd alert: Australian wine scientist T.C. Somers pronounces that "The rate of aging in red wine is determined by the rate of polymerization of polyphenol content." Yawn, but that's the truth! Polyphenols are basically your tannins and aromatic groups, which over time get oxidized. (Like an apple sitting out on the counter turns brown and shrivels.) The tannic structure softens while the wine ages, as polyphenols combine over time. These combined particles eventually get so long that they drop out of the liquid and become sediment. (So THAT'S where that comes from!) Also, acidity is super important -- it is the catapult for aging and flavor development. A good amount of acidity will help age a wine better than without it.

Making a wine to age requires foresight and a deft hand, for as wine guru André Tchelistcheff said, "Balanced wines always age better than wines out of balance," because if you have an overly tannic wine, when the tannins finally resolve, the fruit is -- poof -- gone. 

There are other important winemaking decisions that influence how a wine is aged, namely: harvest decisions, vinificaion options (fining, filtering, etc.,) use (and type) of oak, and so on. A winemaker has to think about potential aging at every step of the process. Ironically, most Americans buy wines for immediate consumption, within 24- to 48-hours of purchase. But thankfully, there is still a market for wines with age. 

I advise clients who want to purchase wines for cellaring to buy at least six bottles. Look at the projected arc of the wine's life, and taste a bottle every few years to enjoy its journey. You will discover the boldness of infancy, the cohesion of maturity, and experience the development of tertiary characteristics as it blooms late in life. You can also mix things up by introducing magnums into the equation; theoretically, the bigger the bottle, the slower the aging process of the wine inside. But what really happens over time in the different formats?

Rob Davis, the winemaker at Jordan in Alexander Valley, CA, recently led a tasting of four different vintages, both presented in bottle and magnum. (And he was the first to point out that there was no one "correct" preference, stressing "Whatever you taste, whatever you like -- YOU are always right." Thanks, Rob!)

So I have starred my "winners" from each pair, where applicable, because I am always right, haha. We started with the young'uns of the group, the 2012s ("One of the best -- best -- years we've seen in three decades," said Rob.)

*2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
Med+ ruby. Floral perfume. Cherry liqueur. Omg. Bright, luscious, clean, elegant red fruits, charming acidity. Super-subtle tannins. Juicy! Warm finish. ~$50 WM:94

2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
Med + ruby. Bit of smoke, leaves, cherries. Still juicy but not as flirtatious. Stronger tannic presence. ~NA $WM:93

In that match-up, I preferred the wine in 750, but the majority of tasters preferred the magnum. Rob was moved to say he kind of wishes they would only bottle in mags. :) 

Next up, the 2007 and 2002 vintages:

2007 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
Med + ruby. Silky, spicy nose. Lite mesquite, black raspberry. Super silky-smooth, integrated acidity, soft tannins. Elegant, rich. ~$130 WM:92

*2007 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
Med + ruby. Perfume, perfume, perfume. More tannic structure than 750. I want to drink the 750 now, but have the mag with food haha. Blackberry compote on finish. Pine needles. ~$290 WM:93

2002 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
Med + ruby-garnet. Potpourri, dried leaves. Light cherry/raspberry. Tannic! Starting to have those wet leaves notes but under fruit, for sure. ~$120 WM:92

*2002 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5L
Med + ruby. Cigar leaf liqueur, cherry, smoke, little green pepper. More fruit, definitely. Love this. Smooth, elegant, like me -- getting a bit older, but still a fun gal :) ~$270 WM:92

1997 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml
Med + garnet. Toast, smoke, cedar chips, black pepper, oregano. Delicate, feel the heat, integrated tannins, still has a freshness though aromatics are secondary. ~$NA WM:95

*1997 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5ml
Med + garnet. Cherry liqueur, brick dust. Port-like. OMG delish. Good fruit! Smooth, rich, elegant, but has a lot of presence. Anise. WOWZERS! Gorgeous balance. Great cherry, smooth, so wonderful. $NA WM:97

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As you can see, I typically preferred the older wines from magnums, possibly because the larger format has protected the fruit more during aging. But all of these wines show great acidity, lift, and elegance -- they are definitely not wimpy, but not bruisers. Which, to me, is a sign of great winemaking. 

Perhaps the biggest "tell" in terms of the Bottle vs. Magnum Showdown is the 1997; while the wine from the bottle format is still kicking, the magnum's offering is positively shining. At over 20 years old, to be able to have that experience is the only argument for bottling -- and aging -- in magnums anyone should need.