A spontaneous road trip yesterday “happened” to take me though the little California town of Murphys . Murphys is the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country, home to over twenty wineries. The town itself has changed little from the gold rush days offering the visitor a taste of history along with many great wines of the region.
Mark your calendar for October 3 for the 13th annual Calaveras Grape Stomp. The event will showcase the region’s wines and restaurants combining the fun of an old time fair with some serious tasting.
Below is a summary of the wines tasted.
Milliaire Winery is owned by Steve and Liz Milliaire. Steve is also the winemaker for Ironstone Vineyards, one of California’s largest wineries. Their family label showcases some of the best small vineyards of the Sierra Foothills. Milliaire’s current releases underscore why they have been one of our favorite Calaveras wineries for years. “Wine Host and Official Wine Taster”, Terry, cheerfully poured through their current offerings and was kind enough to give me a spit cup to keep the ride home safe.
2008 Chardonnay: Crisp, Aromas of apples and stone fruit leading to a crisp clean finish. ($15)
2007 Catherine’s Cuvee Muscat: A blend of orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli made in a semi dry style offering the best characteristics of the variety without being cloyingly sweet. Soft aromas of orange and honey. ($16)
2005 Old Vine Calaveras Zinfandel: The grapes for the Old Vine Zin range in age from 40-110 years. Elegantly styled, brimming with notes of wild blackberry, bramble and spice, the wine is incredibly rich on the palate with soft tannins and a long finish. ($20)
2006 Clockspring Zinfandel: Made from fruit sourced from Amador County’s Clockspring Vineyard, the wine is ideal for those looking for a big, peppery zinfandel. Notes of berry, black pepper and a lush mouthfeel leading to a long spicy finish. ($24)
2005 Ghirardelli Zinfandel: The Ghirardelli Vineyard is the oldest in Calaveras county, planted 110 years ago. A favorite at our table for many years, the complexity of this wine showcases the complexity of old dry farmed vines. Five generations of the Ghirardelli family have tended these vines. Complex and elegant best describe the aromas of dark berry, plum and spice. A long finish and food friendly acidity make this a top pick year after year. ($28)
2005 Sierra Foothills Syrah: A big syrah by any standard, the wine offers aromas of chocolate, ripe fruit and smokiness. While it is drinking well now, it should continue to evolve over the next several years. ($28)
Nanette Tanner guided my tasting through their current releases along with the history of the families story of a now four generation presence as farmers and grape growers in Calaveras County. If there were an award for friendliest tasting room, Tanner Vineyards would be a gold medal winner. Tanner Vineyards winemaker is Scott Klann.
2007 Vermentino: Planted with clones from Northern Italy, the vermentino is an interesting wine with aromas of mineral, lemongrass and a bit of nuttiness. Mouth watering acidity would make the wine pair well with spicy Thai or fresh oysters. ($18)
2008 Vermentino – Viognier: My favorite of the two white wines I tasted, the vermentino – viognier blend is a crisp wine with notes of pear, citrus, apricot and floral nuances. Great acidity and a lingering finish. ($20)
2006 Syrah: If you are looking for a big syrah, this is one place to start. Plum, blackberry and spice best describe the nose leading to a mouthfeel of soft round tannins and berry. ($24)
2006 Petit Verdot: Not usually bottled as a single varietal, petit verdot is usually a love it or hate it wine. Inky dark with massive tannin structure, the wine offers notes of chocolate, leather, ripe plum and spice. ($28)
2005 Mélange de Mère: Translated as ‘Mother’s Blend” , the wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot. Berry, spice and a hint of chocolate blend to make a well structured wine that would pear well with lamb or grilled steak. ($27)
2006 Petite Sirah: Named for the varieties small grape clusters, petite syrah is anything but petite. Dark and deep with a nose of blackberry spice and an underlying floral note. ($35)
Twisted Oak Winery; Are you Twisted?
Twisted Oak Winery’s mission, other than making good wine, is to make the wine tasting experience fun. We have visited hundreds of tasting rooms but this is the only one we know of where rubber chickens are used in the decor. Proudly displayed as a visitor enters, is the glass encased “Golden Rubber Chicken” in honor of the region’s history of gold production. Mark Twain may have written the story of “The Celebrated Rubber Chicken of Calaveras County” if he had not been exposed to jumping frogs first. Twisted Oak’s tasting room staff are always among the best.
2008 Sivaspoons Vineyard Verdelho: Last time we recommended Twisted Oak’s verdelho, it was sold out before the column was published. Pear, peach and apricot dominate leading to more subtle aromas of green apple and flowers. Great food friendly acidity and a clean finish. ($16)
2006 Calaveras County “The Spaniard”: A blend of tempranillo, graciano, and grenacha, The Spaniard is a complex wine with deep berry notes and hints of baking spice. Wonderful mouthfeel with balanced tannins and acidity. A bit pricey but a good choice for those still gainfully employed. ($49)
2006 Calaveras County Petite Sirah: One of the best examples of the grape I have tasted this year. Deep rich color loaded with dark ripe berry aromas and just enough tannin to turn your eyeballs backwards. ($24)