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Wine Reviews

Tasting the Wines of Andrew Murray Vineyards

During my recent trip to Santa Barbara County I stopped in at the tasting room of Rhone-variety specialist Andrew Murray Vineyards. The tasting room, conveniently located on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, is sleekly modern with surfaces of bright white, gleaming glass and chrome accented by splashes of color. Wine is the clear focus but there are a few other things on sale too, from gourmet chocolate bars to wine accessories. The tasting bar accommodates four stools and one or two standing customers. There’s additional seating along the side walls. It's open daily from 11am to 5pm.

Andrew-Murray
Winemaker Andrew Murray             Photo: Andrew Murray Vineyards

Andrew Murray’s tasting room manager kindly accommodated me before regular open hours, so I was able to focus fully on the wines. They are reasonably priced, ranging from $16 to $36, and all are bottled under screwcap and in light glass to reduce the carbon footprint. Quality was very good across the board.

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2012 Andrew Murray RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $25
This blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc straddles two worlds to good effect. There’s plenty of fruit but also mineral, full-bodied viscosity but freshness and silky texture. Aromas include peach blossom, spice, citrus rind, mineral and a chiffonade of herb. The weighty palate brings long-lasting, cool-climate flavors of under-ripe stone fruit, peach pit and mineral. Highly Recommended

2012 Andrew Murray Viognier Santa Maria Valley, $25
The Andrew Murray Viognier smells like a carefree summer’s day: frozen peaches, cotton candy, spice and citrus blossoms. There’s more frozen peach on the nearly full-bodied palate along with peach skin, lime and grapefruit pith plus minerality. Notable acidity and a fine powdery texture keep it clean and interesting. The mineral-dominated finish is lengthy. Recommended+

2011 Andrew Murray Syrah Thompson Vineyard (Los Alamos Valley, Santa Barbara County), $38
This deeply-colored Syrah smells deliciously of black cherry ice cream with a hint of herb and baking spice. The seductive palate is nearly full-bodied with moderate, fine-grained tannins and flavors of black cherry, briary blackberry, spice and mocha. Good length. Now through 2017. Highly Recommended

2011 Andrew Murray Syrah Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon, $36
A very fruit-forward Syrah, the Andrew Murray Three Creek offers festive boysenberry, blackberry and baking spice on the nose. That follows through—at length—on the medium+ palate along with earth and moderate talc-like tannins. Straight-forward and but very tasty. Enjoy through 2015. Highly Recommended

2010 Andrew Murray Syrah Terra Bella Vineyard Paso Robles, $36
This site, near Paso Robles’ Adelaida District, brought ripe cherry ice cream, baking spice, vanilla and a hint of herb on the nose. The flavor of espresso is added to the mix on the palate which is medium+ in body. Tannins are moderate and talc-like but drying and cut into the finish. Try it with juicy grilled lamb chops or smokey baby back ribs. Highly Recommended

2012 Elleven Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, $16
Elleven, it’s name an allusion to the famous Spinal Tap line, is an Andrew Murray brand focused on delivering value with varietals for which quality is elusive under $20. The Pinot Noir exceeds expectations, pleasing with plentiful, varietally-correct flavors. Brown spice leads earthy red cherry and dry herb on the nose and palate. The body is medium+ with talc-like tannins on the lean side of moderate. Juiciness balances the package. Recommended

2012 Elleven Big Bottom Red Blend, Santa Ynez Valley, $16
This wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, is not as broadly-proportioned as its name suggests but will get you farther on a date than singing the song in a girl’s ear. The gregarious nose lures you with currant leaf, black currant, mocha and red cherry. Flavors of red cherry, dark berries, spice, mocha and scattered dry leaves string you along. Moderate, talc-like tannins provide enough resistance to keep the chase interesting. Recommended

2012 Elleven Unplugged White Blend Santa Ynez Valley, $16
The name Unplugged is apt for this restrained blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The medley of bell pepper, spice, gooseberry and lime salt struck a familiar chord but didn’t command my attention. Though the medium+ body satisfied and its light texture had raspy-voiced charm, the overall production didn't get me dancing.

Andrew Murray Vineyards offers other wines, including the Esperance Red Blend, a Mourvedre varietal and other single-vineyard Syrahs, but I didn’t taste them on this occasion.

Interpreting my wine ratings

 

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The reviews above reflect my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. The Andrew Murray Vineyards logo is a trademark of Andrew Murray Vineyards. All rights reserved.

Two Very Good, But Very Different, Bottles of Merlot

The appearance of the 2007 Rubicon Estate Merlot foreshadows its character. Ruby in color but completely opaque, it is a very rich Merlot with seductive aromas of blackberry, black currant, vanilla and spice.

Merlot is typically thought of as plush, but only softly tannic, in comparison to Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 from Rubicon Estate isn’t 100% Merlot though, and it’s not softly tannic. Whereas a a few drops of Syrah helped the wine achieve its depth of color, a more generous portion of Cabernet Sauvignon contributed, among other things, a substantial amount of dusty Rutherford tannins. Full-bodied and creamy, even opulent, the wine needed those tannins to avoid being syrupy. The tannins also provide a strong framework for the deeply layered flavors of dark cocoa and chocolate, plum, concentrated black fruit, kirsch and mulberry.

Rubicon’s 2007 Merlot is very good. Its strength and luxurious texture limit the foods with which it will pair well though. Braised meat is the way to go. Fork-tender short ribs or lamb shank with a velvety sauce would work, as would beef cheeks. Drink now through 2020. Highly recommended.

2007-Rubicon-Merlot

2007 Rubicon Estate Merlot, Rutherford, Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2020

Retail Price: $46
Blend: 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah

Aging: 14 months - 70% French oak, 30% American (30% new)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

 

The grapes for the 2006 Darcie Kent Crown Block Merlot came from their estate vineyard on Crane Ridge in southeastern Livermore Valley. The vines are at the top of a hill, at about 800 feet, where the soil is thin and drains very well. The hand-picked grapes got a cold soak for color and then went into a long cool, open top fermentation with punch downs. A basket press was used for gentle extraction of the juice.

The wine echoes the traditional winemaking techniques and its loyalty to terroir. The Darcie Kent Vineyards Merlot is dark ruby in the glass with prominent aromas of black cherry, coffee and dark chocolate against a subtle background of earth and spice. The body is medium plus with grainy tannins providing good structure. There is more black cherry, coffee and dark chocolate on the palate, along with briary blackberry, kirsch and a hint of smoke.

With alcohol under 14%, fruit that is tasty but not exuberant, and tannins that are just a bit rustic, the 2006 Darcie Kent Merlot will go well with the range of foods normally associated with good Merlot. Grilled leg of lamb would be a great, but a juicy burger will work very well too. Drink now through 2016. Highly recommended.

2007-Darcie-Kent-Merlot

2006 Darcie Kent Vineyards Merlot, Crown Block, Livermore Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2016

Retail Price: $35
Blend: Merlot

Aging: 18 months, 100% French oak
Alcohol: 13.9%

Closure: Cork

The Rubicon Merlot was purchased for the review. The Darcie Kent was received as a winery sample.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Tasted: 6 Current Releases from Two Shepherds

In July, I wrote a profile of Two Shepherds winery, a Santa Rosa-based specialist in Rhone-variety wines. Since that time, they’ve released some new wines. I’ve tasted each of them multiple times now. There’s no sign of a sophomore jinx for Two Shepherds in their second year. If anything, these wines are even stronger than those of the excellent first vintage.

2011-GB-front

The 2011 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc has all the mouth-watering freshness of the 2010. However, the new release has more body and slightly riper fruit for impeccable balance. Aromas of pretty white flowers, pear and hints of stone fruit with a distinct note of minerality. The palate is smooth and dry with medium-plus body and acidity. The flavors are nuanced and include pear, spice, subtle stone fruit, mineral and citrus pith. The finish is clean and lengthy with fine grained texture. Two Shepherds 2011 Grenache Blanc is an enchanting wine that will sell out quickly with a price of $24 and just 100 cases made. Drink now through 2013. Very Highly Recommended.

2011 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynex Valley
Rating: Very Highly Recommended
Drink: Now - 2013
Release Date: August, 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: less than 100 cases
Retail Price: $24.00

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 100% Grenache Blanc
Origin: Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak barrels
Aging: Sur lie aged; 75% 8 months in neutral oak barrels, 25% 5 months in neutral oak barrels then 3 months in stainless.
Alcohol: 13.9%

 

The 2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc is a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc from Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The nose is pretty but not flirty; jasmine petals, lightly tart peach, pineapple and green apple. In the mouth, the wine is smoothly textured with body and acidity that lean toward medium-plus. The flavors of nectarine, mineral chai spice and pineapple dissolve gradually into a mineral finish. Drink now through 2013. Highly Recommended.

2011 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now - 2013
Release Date: August, 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: 70 cases
Retail Price: $24.00

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 45% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 20% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc
Origin: Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak barrels
Aging: Sur lie in neutral oak
Alcohol: 13.8%

 

The 2011 Two Shepherds Viognier is a finely balanced wine from start to finish. One sniff tells you this is Viognier, but the hallmark aromas of honeysuckle and ripe peach are gentle and in harmony. And there’s a touch of pineapple. It is full-bodied and creamy in the mouth, yet fresh. The core of nectarine and honeysuckle is enhanced by hints of pineapple and background minerality. The finish is long and clean with fine-grained texture and persistent fruit and minerality. Drink now through 2013. Highly Recommended+.

2011 Two Shepherds Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended+
Drink: Now - 2013
Release Date: August, 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: 25 cases
Retail Price: $24.00

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 100% Viognier
Origin: Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak
Aging: 4 months sur lie in neutral oak
Alcohol: 13.8%

 

I tasted a barrel sample of the soon-to-be-released 2010 Two Shepherds Grenache. The nose is very pretty with aromas of red cherry, brown sugar and baking spice. The body is medium to medium-plus as are the light-grained tannins. Flavors match the nose. A very nice representation of Grenache’s lighter side. Highly Recommended.

2011 Two Shepherds Grenache
Rating: Highly Recommended (preliminary, barrel sample)
Drink: Now - 2015
Release Date: Fall, 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: tbd
Retail Price: tbd

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 100% Grenache
Origin: Russian River Valley AVA
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak
Aging: tbd
Alcohol: tbd

 

The 2010 Two Shepherds GSM is a wine that I reviewed in the profile. With a few extra months in bottle, the flavors have rounded out and gotten sweeter. Now, it smells of sweet, garden-fresh strawberry, baking spice and a wedge of tangerine. The light and lively flavors of strawberry, tangerine and red cherries with medium-body and buoyant acidity are perfect for outdoor dining during Spring or Summer. Talc-like texture adds a note of seriousness and broadens the range of food it will complement. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended.

2010 Two Shepherds GSM, Russian River Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now - 2015
Release Date: Summer 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: 50 cases
Retail Price: $32.00

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre
Origin: Russian River Valley AVA
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak barrels
Aging: 10 months, neutral oak
Alcohol: 13.8%

 

2010 Two Shepherds Syrah Mourvedre is a savory wine which will do well alongside slices of smoked duck breast or grilled lamb chops. Aromas and flavors include brown spices, black cherry, orange and raspberry with notes of blood and iron. The palate is medium-plus in body and framed more by substantial freshness and moderate tannins which are light-grained and refined. Drink now through 2013. Recommended+.

2010 Two Shepherds Syrah Mourvedre
Rating: Recommended+
Drink: Now - 2016
Release Date: August 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: less than 25 cases
Retail Price: $32.00

Winemaker: William Allen
Blend: 50% Syrah, 50% Mourvedre
Origin: Syrah from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley, Mourvedre from Livermore Valley
Fermentation: Native yeasts in neutral oak
Aging: 10 months in neutral oak
Alcohol: 13.8%

 

Note: Two Shepherds wines are unfined and unfiltered. They will look somewhat cloudy or foggy in the glass and may include sediment and/or tartrate crystals.

The wine above was provided for review.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Tasted: 3 Wren Hop Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay

Wren Hop Vineyards is located on Mark West Station Road, about a mile west of the Santa Rosa airport. Visits are by appointment only and primarily limited to their mailing list customers. Tastings are conducted in a lovely, open-ended room in a guest cottage adjacent to owner Jim McDonough’s home or under an arbor just down the hill.

I tasted under the arbor last Saturday with friends who are on the list. It was a library tasting, so only one of the wines below is a current release. Wren Hop wines are made by Russell Bevan in Santa Rosa.

wren-hop-tasting-room
The tasting salon at Wren Hop. Photo: Fred Swan

2009 Wren Hop Chardonnay “Shipwreck Sailor” Sonoma Coast, $46 (current release)

The nose is somewhat savory with peppery spice, fresh bread, green apple and a hint of chervil. Those notes lead to a surprise on the palate with is very rich, a touch sweet and loaded with fruit and spice. It’s full-bodied and long in the mouth with succulent layers of flavor. Butterscotch, apple and sweet spice are followed by lemon and pineapple brulée. Highly Recommended+

2009 Wren Hop Pinot Noir “Siren’s Lure” Sonoma Coast, $65

Befitting it’s name, this wine draws you in with a pretty, feminine nose and then holds you fast with its powerful palate. The enticing aromas include rose petal, brown and sweet spice and red cherries. A sip reveals a creamy, nearly full-bodied wine with light tannins and surprising freshness given the weight. The deliciously concentrated flavors echo the nose’s spice and cherry. Very Highly Recommended.

2010 Wren Hop Pinot Noir “Fire Messenger” Sonoma Coast, $62

Fire Messenger labelLight ruby in the glass, perhaps owing to the cool vintage, the Wren Hop Fire Messenger isn’t at all shy on the nose. Wild cherry, raspberry, tangy orange and spice greeted me well before the glass reached my nose. On the palate it’s nearly full-bodied with a rich, sexy mouthfeel and flavors of slightly tart red fruit, vanilla and spice. The finish is long and clean with food-friendly freshness. Very Highly Recommended.

2011 Wren Hop Pinot Noir “Wisdom & Chaos” Green Valley of Russian River Valley, $62

Wisdom & Chaos labelThe ruby-colored Wisdom & Chaos is intensely aromatic with raspberry, cherry and tangy herb. Those flavors come through on the palate as well and are consistent through the lengthy finish. In contrast to the ’09 Siren’s Lure and ’10 Fire Messenger which are virtually full-bodied with extremely fine and thoroughly integrated tannins, Wisdom & Chaos is just medium-plus in palate weight and its more prominent, yet still moderate, tannins are lightly grainy. This is in keeping with both the chilly 2011 vintage and the growing site. Green Valley of Russian River Valley is the coolest of Sonoma County’s AVAs. [This considers AVAs as a whole. Individual growing sites in Sonoma Coast AVA may be cooler.] The 2011 Wren Hop Wisdom & Chaos will be at its best from 2014 through 2019. Highly Recommended.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings.

 

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Label art courtesy of Wren Hop. All rights reserved.

Bottling and Tasting 2011 McCay Cellars Rosé

McCay Cellars is best known for red wine, especially their very fine, French oak-aged Zinfandel. This year though, Michael McCay also released a white and a rosé. I opened a bottle of the rosé with a small tasting panel the other day. We loved it.

It’s a Rhone blend, mostly Carignane with some Grenache and Syrah. The Carignane, pronounced “kerrigan” by Lodi farmers, came from 102-year old vines on Rauser Ranch near the Mokelumne River. The grapes were harvested specifically to make this rosé, so it's dry but still naturally fresh and moderate in alcohol.

I happened to be at McCay Cellars earlier this year when the wine was bottled. Here are a few of the photos I took that day.

mccay-rose-labels
A spool of labels awaits bottles on the mobile bottling line at McCay Cellars in March 2012.

rose-bottling
Bottles are slowly fed into a turnstile that holds them firmly while the capsule is crimped.

rose-bubbles
Bottling isn't gentle. The bubbles are air, not carbonation. Wine needs a few weeks to settle after bottling before it's ready to drink.

rose-capping
A rotating mechanism crimps the capsules.

Salmon-colored in the glass with a pale rim, the wine offers pretty, fruit-driven aromas of fresh strawberry, sweet spice, a spray of flowers and a touch of eucalyptus. The 2011 McCay Cellars is delicious in the mouth too, with flavors of strawberry jam, pressed watermelon, sweet spice and hints of vanilla and clove. The palate is dry with medium-plus body and a creamy feel that subsides gradually to reveal texture. The mouthfeel, coupled with attractive freshness and just 12.5% alcohol make it an excellent food wine. It’s lovely by itself though too. Drink now through 2013. Highly Recommended.

mccay-rose-bottle2011 McCay Cellars Rosé
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: now - 2013
Bottling Date: March 2012
Closure: Cork
Production: 133 cases
Retail Price: $18.00

Winemaker: Michael McCay
Blend: 70% Carignane, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah
Origin: Lodi AVA
Fermentation: Native yeast in stainless steel
Alcohol: 12.49%

Service Recommendations
Decanting: Not recommended
Temperature: 52º - 56º F
Food Pairings: Roast chicken or seafood enchiladas

The wine above was provided by the winery for review.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Bottle photo courtesy of McCay Cellars. All rights reserved.