Oct 2, 2013

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Murrieta’s Well: Rich History, The Whip, The Spur, Zarzuela and a Savory Chorizo Spice Rub

MW 3 bottlesI recently had the opportunity to join in on a fun and interesting virtual tasting of California’s Murrieta’s Well wines with fourth generation winegrower and co-owner of Murrieta’s Well, Philip Wente; along with, Executive Chef Matt Greco of the award-winning Restaurant at Wente Vineyards.

Two of the three wines that we sampled from Murrieta’s Well bare names that are closely tied to the captivating history of the winery and vineyards: The Whip and The Spur.  Located in California’s Livermore Valley, the name Murrieta’s Well comes from what is believed to be the original denizen of the land, a Gold Rush Era bandit named Joaquin Murrieta.  Murrieta liked the property because of its artesian well, which provided water for his gang and their horses. But it was a French native named Louis Mel who saw the land’s potential for grape growing.  In the early 1880s, Mel, who was one of California’s wine industry pioneers, enabled the president of California’s Viticultural Society to go to Bordeaux, France, and acquire vineyard cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from the highly acclaimed Chateau d’Yquem; as well as, cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the equally-famous Chateau Margaux.  Mel planted these pedigree vines on the estate property, and  in 1884 he built a gravity-flow winery into the hillside across from the property’s well that was frequented by the former Murrieta.

MW caps and corkWhen Mel retired in the 1930s, he sold the property to Ernest Wente, who was a friend and neighbor, making the property a part of the Wente Estate.  It wasn’t until 1990 when Philip Wente worked with winemaker Sergio Traverso to revive the historical gravity flow winery (the vines were in perfect shape) to create some fantastic blended wines.  Because of its history, they named the vineyard property Murrieta’s Well, and used the fruit from those famous cuttings to create a white blend of  Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and a red blend with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  As time went on, they began to add some non-Bordeaux varieties into the blends to create depth and character, and with a tribute to Murrieta’s western heritage, Traverso and Wente named the white and red blends The Whip and The Spur.  With each vintage, they change the varieties used in the blends.

“One of the marvelous things is to have all of these varieties come through the winemaking process and to the blending table, and then get to play with them, and try various combinations and bits and pieces and see what adding 3% of this or 5% of that does,” explains Wente.  “If we come to the conclusion that it’s bringing a more complex and interesting flavor, we’ll add it.  If it’s not really adding anything or taking away from the beauty of something else, we won’t use it that particular year.”

MW Spur WhipStarting with the Whip (vintage 2012, $21), check out the varietals in this lively and lush blend: 43% Chardonnay, 15% Gewurztraminer, 13% Sauvignon Blanc, 9% Orange Muscat, 8% Viognier, 5% Pinot Blanc, 4% Semillon and 3% Muscat Canelli. The varietals were fermented and aged differently, too.  A blend of stainless steel, neutral oak and neutral French oak was used in both winemaking and aging, creating truly unique layers of aromas and flavors of stone fruit, orange zest, pineapple and vanilla.  Juicy, yet creamy and lush in the mouth, nice acidity on the finish balances out the fruit flavors to perfection – leaving the palate refreshed and wanting more.

Also a lively and lush blend, The Spur (vintage 2011, $25) consists of 31% Petite Sirah, 29% Petit Verdot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc.  I’m a huge fan of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, so I knew this was going to be my kind of red blend.  Each varietal in this blend was fermented in upright stainless steel tanks and then aged for 14 months in a variety of neutral oak barrels: American, French and Eastern European.  Aromas and flavors of dark fruits and ripe cherries are highlighted by earth and zippy white pepper.  Fine grained tannins and beautiful acidity balance well with the fruit components, and the finish is long and once again highlighted by white pepper.  $25 dollars is a steal for this complex, opulent blend.

MW Chorizo spice RubThe third wine we sampled was the 2011 Los Tesoros Zarzuela ($45).  The name Zarzuela came about from one of Traverso’s trips to Spain and Portugal, where he fell in love with many of the Spanish varieties.  So, Traverso and Wente planted some of those varietals, like Tempranillo, Souzao and Touriga, which they blended with some of the other grapes on the property.  The name Zarzuela, in Spain, translates into Fish Stew, but also has a secondary meaning: ‘folk music’ or ‘light opera’ of Spain.  An eclectic blend of 32% Souzao, 22% Petite Sirah, 21% Tempranillo, 13% Barbera, 11% Graciano and 1% Touriga create a full-bodied, complex wine that leaves a lasting impression.  Well balanced aromas and flavors create layers of bright red fruits with hints of fresh tobacco, vanilla and fall spices.  Focused, fresh and lush, fine tannins and excellent acidity add depth to create a long, ambrosial finish. Fermentation took place in open top bins and were punched-down by hand twice daily; in addition to, the must being pumped over twice daily in small stainless steel tanks.  Like the Spur, aging took place in the same variety of oak barrels, but for 20 months.

One of my favorite things about the Murrieta’s Well tasting is that participants didn’t just receive samples of wine, we also received a small jar of Chef Matt Greco’s down-right delicious Chorizo Spice Rub.  A couple hours before the virtual tasting began, live on Ustream , I sprinkled the Chorizo Spice Rub over some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, covered them up and put them in the fridge to soak in the spice’s flavors.  During the tasting, I fired up the grill and cooked the Chorizo Spice rubbed chicken alongside some corn on the cob with cilantro lime butter.  The flavors of the Chorizo spice rub are amazingly savory and ambrosial.  Surprisingly, the chicken dish paired well with all three of the wines; even the reds, which most people tend to pair chicken with white wine.  Since then, I’ve used the spice on roasted pork loin, steamed clams, ling cod, and on a variety of vegetables – it’s a spice rub like none other.  My question to Chef Matt Greco is, “How do I get more of this zesty, delicious spice rub?  I’m almost out, and I’m not sure I can live without it!”


*samples were provided to me for review purposes.