Jumping frogs, Twisted wines, and Sneaky Syrah

Who needs romantic candlelit dinners?  Who needs chocolate and sweet nothings?  Not me.  I had a much better Valentine’s Day weekend, spend slurping the good stuff in one of the hottest new wine regions of California, Calaveras County.

My first visits to this area were whizzing by Douglas Flat on the way to go skiing at Bear Valley or Dodge Ridge.  Then, as I got older, we would take summer trips to Sonora and Jackson to learn about the Gold Rush history.   Last fall, however, my eyes were opened when I took my first trip to Murphys to go wine tasting.  I had my first taste of wine from this area, and fell in love.

First, a little history, just so I can shake off all of you lurkers and get the real readers in here.  OK just kidding!  The name Calaveras is Spanish for “skulls”, which is probably from the bones found by the Spanish Captain, Gabriel Moraga.  Calaveras County also gained notieraity when Mark Twain wrote the short storyThe Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“.  The area was settled

The town of Murphys, with some 15 tasting rooms on Main Street, was settled during the Gold Rush by – spoiler alert – brothers Daniel and John Murphy.  They ran the local supply store, where they became rich off of the prospectors who needed supplies. Now, with it’s cluster of tasting rooms on a short meander, Murphys’ tasting rooms take you on a history walk through town, while enjoying some fabulous wine.

Wine has been made in these parts since the late 1800s, to supply the growing towns and miners with their elixirs.  Much like Amador County, immigrants brought the wine making techniques with them.  While certain other areas of the state are more well known, I think that Calaveras County will continue to grow (but not too much) and develop in to a wine power, while maintaining it’s small town charm.  This area is idea for growing Spanish and Rhone varietals, as it is very hot and dry in the summer, with snow and true winter in the later months.  As such, we tasted several Viogniers, Grenaches and Syrahs.  There is also a long history of Zinfandel being grown in these parts, and the oldest known zin planting is a 110 year old vineyard producing some potent juice!  Part of the allure of Murphys is that the tasting rooms are intimate, it’s rarely crowded (except for a bad experience with a bus of retirees from Modesto), the people are genuinely happy to see you, and there are great wines at amazing prices.  Have I mentioned that most wineries do not charge a tasting fee?  If they do, it’s rarely more than a few dollars and worth every cent.

Some fothe highlights of my weekend were:

  • Twisted Oak Presidents in Lust Dinner – This dinner, which humorously combines Presidents Day with Valentines Day, offered scrumptious treats by Sugar & Spice Catering in Jackson, paired with the best of Twisted Oak’s library wines.  My favorite pairing of the night was the Chipolte Tomato Bisque served with the 2004 Grenache.  It’s true, I have left my heart at Twisted Oak!
  • Tanner Vineyards – Tanner shares the supreme talents of Scott “Fermento the Magnificent” Klann, Twisted Oak’s winemaker and resident cool dude.  Tanner makes outstanding Syrah from thier own vineyard, as well as Petite Verdot and a Rhone blend called Mélange de Mère, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot.
  • Lavender Ridge – is located in a historical storefront on Main Street, and offers cheese pairings with their wine.  I really enjoyed their Viognier paired with a nice triple creme!
  • Broll Mountain – some new friends that Brix Chick Liza and I met at ZAP work part time at the Broll tasting room, and we popped in to see them. Why hadn’t I popped in before!  Another great example of Sierra Foothills syrah.
  • Chatom – is slightly outsideo f town, near the Twisted Oak winery in Vallecito.  I had to drag Liza in there, but it was well worth it for the live music and wines in they were pouring.  The She Wines Red, a nice red blend, was a great every day wine for less than $10.
  • Ironstone (reserve selections only) – this behemouth is a huge event center, but if you stick to the reserve table, I found some gems.  I really liked the Christine Andrew Chard, and with the sale price of a whopping $11.99, I should have taken home more.  The Reserve Old Vine Zin from Lodi was what our hostess Shoshona referred to as a “dirty wine”, which was deep, dark, rich and filled with chocolate covered cherries.  I would reccomend a trip to Ironstone for a taste of these wines.  Their regular line is average and affordable, but these reserve wines are speical and offer amazing QPR.
  • Renner – is the newest kid on the block.  We hit them on a whim on the way back down 4.  Renner is located in a faux old west style town, in Copperopolis.  As we pulled in, we had the tasting room to ourselves, and were happy to discover that they own the Canterbury Vineyard where the viognier we had with dinner the night before came from.  They also make 2 syrahs that were wonderful, and were offering one of the syrahs by the case for $9 a bottle.  If we’re looking at QPR here, this one is out of this world.  For a weeknight sipper, this is a steal so walk, don’t run.  The regular price is still affordable at $18, but this special sprice was stunning.

As we wrapped up our wine soaked weekend, I had amassed quite a collection of wine, but it was very easy on the wallet.  First off, you are not paying for Napa real estate so wineires are able to pass that savings on to the cosumer.  Additionally, in conjunction with the event weekend, we were able to get several “special sales” and allowed us to buy more wine!

Thank you Murphys for a fantastic sweekend, and can’t wait tos ee you nex ttime.

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