Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Livermore Valley’s Murrieta’s Well Quenching Thirst With Quality

We had only one regret during last summer’s trip to central California. We missed a side trip to Livermore Valley. We made up for that misstep with a recent tasting of wines from Murrieta’s Well.

A Livermore Valley Legacy

Livermore Valley is one of California’s oldest wine regions, located in Alameda County, about 50 miles southeast of San Francisco.Pioneer winemakers C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore recognized the area’s winegrowing potential and founded their wineries in the early 1880s. International recognition followed when Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, putting California on the world wine map.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wine estates and has been growing grapes since the 1880s. The vineyard was planted with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards in France. The winery was founded in 1884 and was sold to Ernest Wente in 1933. In 1990 the winery was revived and renamed Murrieta’s Well.

We had the opportunity recently to sample six of their Small Lot blends. Green Dragon rose to the occasion with a special dish prepared for each.

The Lighter Side Of Livermore

We broke our tasting into two nights, enjoying a pair of whites and a rosé outside on the patio the first evening. The spring breeze rustled the nearby lilac bushes, releasing a delightful aroma.

We started with the 2016 Dry Rosé paired with prosciutto-wrapped garlic breadsticks and strawberries. The rosé is a blend of 55% Grenache and 45% Counoise.  Counoise is a Rhone grape that imparts a nice acidity. This is a startlingly good rosé!

There is a lovely mix of berry flavors with melon. A slight pop of welcome sweetness highlights the finish. You can spend many happy afternoons and evenings sipping this wine!

In 2010, Murrieta's Well launched their Whip (white) and Spur (red) blends. If you have heard of Murrieta’s Well, chances are these are the wines with which you are familiar. In our tasting, the Whip was next featured with Crab Rangoon and a spicy sauce.

The 2015 Whip was incredibly enjoyable – and that’s not a line from from a popular movie. It is a blend of 30% each of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay. It also includes 7% Viognier and 3% Muscat Canelli.

This is a crisp wine with floral notes and flavors of apricot and honeysuckle. It paired famously with the Crab Rangoon – but it could easily pair with a multitude of dishes or even stand alone. I attribute some of this to the fermentation and aging process. A small amount of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were fermented for two weeks in small oak barrels. The remainder were cold fermented in stainless steel tanks. After blending, a third was stored in used French oak and the remainder in stainless steel tanks. Handling in this was preserves the acidity and fresh flavors.

This is a wine I can confidently recommend for a case purchase. At an SRP of $24, it’s affordable too.
Anchoring this leg of the tasting was the 2016 Muscat Canelli. First of all, it is a treat to taste wine from this hard-to-find grape. Murrieta’s Well only produced 100 cases.

It was paired with Chicken Florentine – although in retrospect, this was probably a better match with the crab dish and its spicy sauce.

The grapes come from the winery’s Hayes vineyard, which has an array of soils, aspects and slopes. The 2016 vintage is the fourth drought vintage in a row for California, which has resulted in expressive and concentrated wines.

The Muscat Canelli has “Gewürztraminer tendencies” in our opinion. That is to say, it is floral with a touch of spiciness. Over the next two years, the wine will develop even more complex aromas.

Spurring On The Reds

The next night we were able to taste the reds during a virtual tasting with Murrieta’s Well winemaker Robbie Meyer. The tasting was hosted by Snooth (and we also revisited some of the whites from the night before). We were joined by tasting team member, the Cabernetor.

The red wine counterpart of The Whip is The Spur, which is a Bordeaux style blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. We paired this with a braised pork dish.

The Spur is a winner with rich flavors of dark cherry and vanilla. It undergoes oak aging for 24 months, half in new barrels – but has no harsh edges. It is supple and elegant. This is another wine which I could heartily recommend a case purchase. It is $30, but drinks like a wine at a much higher price point.

The 2014 Small Lot Merlot has the most limited production of the three reds we tasted, at 18 barrels. It is 90% Merlot with 7% Cabernet and 3% Petit Verdot.
This is a sophisticated Merlot with great depth. Tannins provide nice structure for this wine’s plum and cocoa flavors. It was a great partner with our meatball dish.

On the red side, our closing wine – the 2014 Small Lot Cabernet Franc – was the favorite. It is 88% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. This was a gusher of blueberry, black fruit and herbal flavor notes. The body is medium with a bright finish that has hints of vanilla. This is a smooth ride and differs from Finger Lakes or Ontario Cab Francs since there is no noticeable peppery note.

Our tasting was a revelation on two fronts. First, Murrieta’s Well demonstrated mastery of red, white and rosé with rich and elegant wines at a great price point. Second, Livermore Valley is producing outstanding wine. Wente and Concannon have notoriety, and our introduction to the terroir-driven wines of Murrieta’s well could not have gone better, showing there is more to explore in the valley!

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

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