Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Tasting At the Inn

This is the first of a number of articles begun late last year before I had created a blog and dated so my readers won't be confused, hopefully. My thanks to David and Melanie for their patience while I got my act together.

September, 2007

Late last September, I received an invitation to do a wine tasting of Murphy-Goode wines at the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe. For those of you not familiar with this restaurant, or who the Anasazi were (yes, they are definitely in the past tense), read on. The Anasazi were an ancient tribe living in four corners region of New Mexico. They either moved or died out in the 12th century, but left many artifacts of their civilization, including elaborate cave dwellings.

The Inn of the Anasazi is a beautiful upscale hotel and restaurant that meticulously re-created some of their art and mystique. Artisans are definitely at work in the restaurant, and it’s one of the most acclaimed in a city that takes pride in its restaurants.

Since I almost never pass up a chance to go to Santa Fe, ditto the Inn, this was impossible to turn down. I was met there by David Ready, Jr., the winemaker, and Melanie Dougherty, the publicist for Murphy-Goode and many other quality wineries. As I suspected, neither the food nor the wine disappointed.

David Ready, Jr. is the son of Dave Ready, one of the Murphy-Goode founders that include Tim Murphy and Dale Goode. This is definitely a family-run business, and shows the care and love they’ve put into the winery. Producing around 140,000 cases, this is not a small operation by any means. They also have enough estate grapes to produce outstanding single-vintage wines, which always begin with good fruit.

Four wines were served, an elegant Chardonnay, light on the French oak, 25% stainless fermented. A Chardonnay done in the French style must start with good grapes if it isn’t going to be tricked up with heavy oak.

This was followed by a well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon called Sarah’s Block, a classic Alexander Valley Cab with black raspberry fruit. Lastly, two very good but different Zinfandels. Both went quite well with my buffalo burger, laced with crisp-seared bacon and gorgonzola to stand up to the Zins. The Liar’s Dice Zinfandel has rich blackberry with peppery notes, and lots of taste without being a fruit bomb. Snake Eyes Zinfandel was a well structured and balanced wine with good fruit and depth.

All through the meal I enjoyed the animated conversation and David’s passion for his wines. Well, that’s as it should be; good wine does require passion. That and patience and attention to detail often result in good to great wines. During the conversation, the talk turned to the impact of oak on wine. David mentioned working with a wood (stave) maker of American oak in Minnesota that can craft it to provide the characteristics of French oak using computers to adjust how they bake and/or add ingredients to the curing process.

Beginning in the mid-1990’s, American oak has seen a renaissance in cooperage. Some coopers suggest this comes from the use of French barrel-making techniques, bending and toasting over a fire, for example. One of the factors that make French and American oak barrels different is the way barrels are assembled. In France, staves are hand-split or use a hydraulic wedge. The lower leakage rate of American oak allows the staves to be sawn, saving considerably on labor costs and waste.

Recently, I began putting more focus on oak and how it influences a wine’s taste portfolio. Many vintners bludgeon their Chardonnay with oak until oak and splinters seem to predominate. Choosing French oak, blending a portion of the fruit in stainless, not going the 100% maloactic fermentation route, and working with grapes that bring out the fruit flavors all went into making the Murphy-Goode Chardonnay a much better wine and better food wine. Check them out. Website:

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