Monday, August 6, 2012
Andrew Murray’s Viognier is great as a summer sipper, but it also carves out a place at the dining table.
It’s a product of the Santa Maria Valley. The grapes come from a block of Viognier planted especially for Murray. The cool days and foggy nights which are common at the vineyard help get the grapes ripe without going crazy with the alcohol.
The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and the vinification takes place in stainless steel. The lightly tinted Viognier shows a fruit basket on the nose, with pineapple, mango, apricot and citrus fighting for attention. Minerals are certainly present, as expected in a wine from the Santa Maria Valley. The palate really shows the minerals, as well as the wonderful herbal edge attained through the whole - cluster press. The sweetness of the fruit is tempered by lime zest. There’s good acidity and a tart, pleasing finish.
I’d suggest that you run out and pick up a bottle, but that’s not possible. The 2011 yield was limited and only 50 cases were produced - those are now sold out, according to the Andrew Murray website.
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Monday, March 5, 2012
The Cimarone 3CV Bank appeared earlier on Now And Zin. It's a Bordeaux blend with a bit of Syrah. Now let's try their 3CV Cilla's Blend, which reverses the math and mixes 69% Syrah with Bordeaux varieties: 20% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The alcohol content is 14.5% abv and the wine sells for $18.
The source for all this fruit is Cimarone's Three Creek Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County, in the warm, eastern clime of the Santa Ynez Valley. The blend sees 20 months in new and neutral French oak barrels. Cimarone owner Roger Higgins named the blend after his wife, Priscilla. He calls it “a wine of beauty and elegance - just like Cilla.”
Doug Margerum was the winemaker for this effort. Now, Andrew Murray has come on board and will be Cimarone’s winemaker for future vintages. Cimarone kindly provided a sample of Cilla's Blend.
There's a big whiff of alcohol upon opening, but this is not an issue after decanting. The gorgeous fruit is dark. Blackberries and blueberries play against an undercurrent of bell pepper, black pepper and sage. The herbal angle features prominently, but the fruity aspect leads the way.
The wine sports a great tannic structure and mouth watering acidity. It's a big wine, with an intense flavor, and herbal notes linger on the finish. I'd pair this with a rosemary steak.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Cimarone Estate Wines, in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County, deals in Bordeaux and Rhone grape varieties grown on their Three Creek Vineyard. Cimarone was kind enough to send me a few of their wines to sample, and this time we're tasting their 2008 Reserve Syrah.
These $40 bottles are numbered, and mine was bottle 1,316 of 1,380. 115 cases of this Doug Margerum wine were made. Winemaking duties at Cimarone have been taken over by the capable Andrew Murray. He will be in the cellar from the 2011 vintage forward.
This Syrah - the first Reserve produced by the winery - has a 14.5% abv number printed clearly and legibly on the label, no magnifying glasses needed. The blend is 60% Syrah 383 clone, 20% Syrah Noir clone and 20% Syrah 877 clone, for those who like to get geeky about it. Not that there's anything wrong with that! The wine is aged for 18 months in oak which the winery describes as “very tight-grain Seguin Moreau and Hermitage hand crafted barrels.”
Upon pouring, I notice the wine is very dark. Let's get real, it's practically black except for a little band of purple around the edges. A gigantic blackberry nose shows oak spice and some clove notes. An initial whiff of alcohol disappears after it settles down. Big blackberry fruit is displayed on the palate, too. A really warm expression of the oak rides along, with black pepper on the finish. The sweet fruit and the savory, leathery aspect make for an intriguing sip, and big, toothy tannins plead for a filet seared quickly on both sides.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Italian grape varieties are among my favorites from around the world, particularly Sangiovese. Whether it's the fresh, youthful Chianti or the grizzled old Brunello, I love what this grape does when it's wine.
Gran Premio is an estate-grown Sangiovese from Cimarone’s Three Creek Vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Happy Canyon AVA. Happy Canyon is in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, which is protected from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean by the same Mountain range that channels that cooling effect into the Sta. Rita Hills.
Cimarone's Gran Premio is a blend of two clones - there are are 14 clones of the Sangiovese grape - which were picked before full ripeness. This allows for the exclusion of excessive sugar and a resulting wine which is quite dry. The wine is fermented in open-top wood barriques, and the wood has quite an impact on its aromas and flavors.
Doug Margerum was the winemaker for Gran Premio. Effective with the 2011 vintage, Margerum's purple shoes will be filled by Andrew Murray, who has taken over as winemaker for Cimarone. According to the label, I had bottle 36 of 600! That means only 50 cases made, so you'd better grab fast.
Gran Premio shows a medium dark hue in the glass. The nose exudes blackberry and tar. Very dark flavors of earthy plums and blackberry show up on the palate, with that tar angle coming in just behind the fruit. What the label calls "fine tannins" means that this is a very smooth wine. You can add several "o"s to "smooth" if that helps convey the message.
This wine drinks not like a fruity, young wine, but more like a brunello, laden with the tarry notes that years can bring to this grape. It's great tasting and very easy drinking. With smoked Gouda on rosemary bread the taste is amazing. I'd love to try it with lamb, or merguez sausage. Premio retails for $40 and carries a 14.5% abv number.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Cimarone Winery is on Three Creek Vineyard in the relatively new Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County. Roger and Priscilla Higgins own the vineyard and winery, and they emphasize Bordeaux and Rhone varieties in their Cimarone and 3CV labels.
The gravelly, hillside soil of Three Creek Vineyard is planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Semillon. The Bordeaux grape varieties do very well in the warm climate of Happy Canyon, which is shielded from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean by the same mountains which channel that cool climate into the Sta. Rita Hills. You can find out more about Happy Canyon - including how it got its name - in an excellent and interesting article from The Central Coast Wine Report on the Happy Valley AVA.
The Higgins have employed legendary Santa Barbara winemaker Doug Margerum to create their blends, but a change has come. Los Olivos-based Andrew Murray is now the winemaker for Cimarone’s wines beginning with the 2011 vintage. Murray has extensive success with his own Rhone-based wines at Andrew Murray Vineyards.
Bank is Cimarone's top-selling Bordeaux blend with a touch of Syrah. It consists of 35% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec, 9% Merlot and 9% Syrah. The wine carries 14.5% abv and sells for $20. Margerum is the winemaker for this ‘09 effort.
Bank is a dark purple in the glass with intense blackberry jam on the nose. There are some clove and anise aromas, too. The taste is heavily influenced by the Syrah as well. Blackberry flavor stretches for miles, with a savory aspect that gives Bank a real old world feel. The finish is lengthy.
This bottle - open for three nights - is, by the third night, more influenced by the Cabernet Franc. The tannins still have bite, but the herbaceous, savory notes come forward mightily and a black plum profile nudges the blackberry out of the way. This wine really undergoes quite a metamorphosis after opening. Usually, I prefer a wine to have some time open, but I would not recommend letting Bank sit open for that long. Upon opening, give it plenty of breathing or aeration, then enjoy.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Santa Barbara County winemaker Andrew Murray created an incredibly big, aromatic Syrah/Viognier blend he calls Purple Haze. He sells this rock-targeted wine under the banner of This Is E11even Wines, a nod to the Spinal Tap reference of "turning it up to eleven." It's a Central Coast red wine - at once brawny and elegant - which, oddly, takes inspiration from the wines of the northern Rhône. Purple Haze may be an Old World blend, but it is a New World wine through and through.
Murray explains Purple Haze on his website:
"Purple Haze is inspired by the incredible wines of Côte Rôtie in the extreme northern reaches of the Rhône Valley. There, Viognier is intentionally planted amongst or adjacent to the Syrah vines. Syrah is a dark, spicy, and fruity red that benefits from the delicacy, perfume, and "lightness" of the Viognier. The Syrah for this wine comes from Verna's Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road from a block planted to the French clone, simply named 383. It is one of my favorite clones of Syrah; unfortunately it is not very widely planted. We only harvested enough to craft three barrels of this wine. The wine was open-top fermented with frequent punch-downs yielding an impossibly dark and concentrated Syrah. It always seemed like a distillation of Syrah...so I thought that it needed something to truly shine. We did some trial blends and found that about 10% Viognier added to the wine acted to both soften the wine and elevate the aromatics."
The aptly named Purple Haze - Murray says the Viognier "puts a spell on the Syrah" - is a very dark purple which gets only barely lighter around the edge. Blueberry jam on the nose does not do a solo act. It's joined by aromas of cassis, and tobacco - so aromatic it makes me think of pipe tobacco. A floral note makes a peace sign from behind the fruit. The smell is intense, like a perfume.
The wine shows every bit of its 15.9% alcohol level upon pouring, so let it sit a while before enjoying. Wonderful, dark fruit flavors explode on the palate, with deep and rich blackberry and plums. Firms tannins and a delicious acidity round out the concert. I was struck after the bottle was open a while by the way it had smoothed out. Incredibly dark and delicious, Purple Haze made me forget all about the Crosstown Traffic. 'Scuse me, while I finish off the bottle.
I notice on the website that both of the This Is E11even wines - Murray also makes a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah - are sold out. Happily, he has an encore planned. Murray tells me a white and a red E11even are coming soon.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Andrew Murray has turned it up to eleven. Inspired by the rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," Santa Barbara County winemaker Murray offers a side project called This Is E11even Wines.
As rockers enter the field of winemaking in growing numbers, it's fitting that a winemaker shows his mettle with a line of wines in tribute to the rock and roll dream. Murray describes himself as a once-aspiring rock star, but he seems pretty happy to be a rock star winemaker now. On his website, the Rhône-loving vintner says, "I’ll be blending to achieve just the right melody, and experimenting with non-Rhône varieties to bust out a solo."
The Santa Barbara Independent had this to say of his Purple Haze 2006:
"This one, a Cote Rotie-style blend with 10 percent viognier, doubles up with a Jimi Hendrix connection, as Murray believes the viognier “put a spell on” the syrah. We enjoyed it, writing, “Dark with a little chocolate,” “lean on the mouth but spicy,” and “more flavorful than Old World, more vibrant.” ($25; 15.9%)"
It comes under a Stelvin closure, known in rock'n'roll circles as a screwcap.