Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Judgment of Albuquerque

The Judgment of Albuquerque
The New Mexico Vine and Wine Society, sponsors the New Mexico State Fair wine competition each year for evaluating and awarding wineries for their best efforts. For the most part the judges are volunteers with a passionate interest in wine, and can include grape growers, commercial wine makers, and amateur wine makers. It can also include wine writers, which is how I came to be a judge at this event.

This invite came right after I’d attended the Southwest Wine Competition that precedes the Toast of Taos wine event. I jumped at the chance to be part of it. You may be thinking, free wine! Actually, the judging takes all day and requires a judge’s full attention. We also make judicious use of a spit bucket, to keep our palates and brains sharp. The fellowship of other wine lovers and the conversation – always on wine – is part of what I most enjoyed.

I also gained insight into objectively evaluating wine apart from my own palate preferences, which serves me very well as a wine writer. I also discovered that using the traditional swirl, sip, and inhale technique does not work very well when you try a specialty-green chili wine. My eyes watered profusely down the sides of my ruined nose and my palate went into hibernation. Good thing it was the last wine I tried.

The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal winners can be found on the Vine and Wine Society’s website at and includes awards to newly emerging wineries and smaller wine making organizations as well as the bigger wineries such as Gruet.
As it turned out, my biggest challenge was finding where the event was held. The Sandia Courtyard Hotel and Conference Center was previously a Howard Johnston hotel, which was the information I was given. When the familiar blue and orange colors did not appear I had to do the unprecedented: ask directions. You know how hard that can be for a guy to accomplish. I still made it on time.

One of the interesting things I learned was that the judges first taste a know varietal. The calibrating wine chosen is one true to its grape’s primary characteristics. It’s sort of like the first violin tuning the orchestra. Once that is accomplished we all begin to taste flights of wine, usually all six or seven wines are of a particular grape variety, except for blends and specialty wines.
By the time I got to that last wine, my palate was reaching saturation. The green chili wine completed the saturation. You might keep that in mind if you decide to become a wine judge. Salut!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Murphy-Goode: What’s in a Name

I have been a fan of the Murphy-Goode winery for some time. From their premium wines to the standard offerings, quality speaks loudly. The ones I’ll comment on today are all reasonably priced and excellent values even at list price.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) from Alexander Valley, Sonoma is a case in point. Murphy-Goode recommends pairing it with meat, and this one is hefty enough to overpower more timid culinary offerings, but I’d drink this one all by itself and still feel like I’d had a good meal. The 91% Cabernet Sauvignon grape is balanced with Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot, almost the classic Meritage blend except for the ratios. The intent here though is to balance and enhance the Alexander Valley Cabernet fruit, one of California’s premium areas for this grape. Try to find an under-forty Napa Cab that can compete with this one, I dare you.

I brought this wine to a friend’s BBQ, and the hostess, my wife, and another cab lover covetously sipped and savored it, not willing to share it beyond our intimate circle. Good wine will do that. I’d rate it right at the top of my drinkability index.

The Hammond drinkability index (HDI), although not scientifically-proven, is a measure of not only the taste and complexity of a wine, but also how much you enjoy drinking it. When your hand slips lovingly over the bottle as you pour another glass, when you gaze fondly on its rich, warm colors, when you continue to sniff the bouquet of the empty glass, and finally sigh, contentedly, after the last sip, that is pure HDI. And that is what this wine delivers.

The 2007 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc ($11.50) is the Sauvignon Blanc grape done in the Fumé style, and is partially fermented in stainless with a judicious use of French oak to make it the perfect food wine. I paired it with seared Ahi and loved every drop. While not as aggressively acidic as the New Zealand varieties, there is a riot of tropical fruit flavors with an undercurrent of pear to please most fans of this grape.

The 2006 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($17) is another in a long line of excellent Chards from this winery. The grape’s extended hang time gave it the richness of baked apple pie, but try it with Fettuccini Carbonara, and hold the pie for later. While I’ve gotten bored with the over-oaked, 100% malolactic fermentation (MLF) Chardonnays that dot a wine shelf, the 12% MLF used here helps bring all the flavors into balance.

Finally, there is the 2006 Alexander Valley Merlot ($20), which adds a hint of Petit Verdot and a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, but this is big, complex Merlot all the way. A great companion to the Cab above, this wine pairs best with hearty fare, but the dark fruit, herbal accents and silky tannins make it just fine on its own if you’re at a loss as to what to fix for dinner.

While it is always fun to discover a new wine from a specialty winery, a wine producer that can score hits over their entire line is the type of winery I love to seek out. Murphy-Goode is just such a winery with a family of value-priced wines that belong in your wine cellar, or on your table. Salut!