When traveling to a new wine region, you can quickly cut to the top of the line just by asking around for the locally famous winemakers. In a town like Murphys, winemakers like Rich Gilpin are known by name. He is the man behind the magic of several wineries known for their quality wines. He also mentors other winemakers and consults for several other wineries. One of his secrets is staying up on the latest and greatest equipment to squeeze the most succulent flavor out of his grapes.
Lavender Ridge is where you can taste his craft for Rhone varietals like Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne, the answer to anything-but-Chardonnay. His Roussanne has that lovely rich lemon curd and crème brulee thickness you can only get from time spent in one of those cool concrete eggs. This is a white with the hearty tannins of a red. Their Viognier has a slight hint of that floral fragrance that is typical of this grape yet it is balanced by flavors of apricot and slightly green banana. The bright red Grenache smells like a sweet bucket of cherries yet is balanced by many layers and flavors like tart red plum, earthy mushrooms, and herbs de provence. Simply magical!
The newest tasting room in Murphys is in a larger than most building right on the main strip. I believe it was once the firehouse. In this great location, Bunting serves up some classically French styled wines with a punch. The French style is not only seen in their delicious grape varietals that are sometimes hard to find in California like Marsanne and Roussanne but also in an incredible balance of bright crisp acidity with soft tannins that show off the natural fruit flavor of a varietal. The punch is in the high alcohol levels (sometimes 15%), which makes the experience like classical music with the volume turned way up.
Definitely worth a visit!
Where better to go on March 17 than Irish Family Vineyards in Murphys, CA! This trip we were wowed by a Malvasia Bianca that had lots of apricot and lemon curd with a hint of banana. Their Duct Tape that fixes most everything is now called Quick Fix and it still does with wide thick body from Merlot and Cab. Then a Petite Sirah and Zin Kilkenny red has ripe plump juice with a complex body of plum and spice on top of a whiff of smoke and vanilla. We love this wine any day of the year.
The wine town of Murphys draws quite a crowd a few days a year. Today was one of those days. Their grape stomp festival stains feet from all over the Sierra Foothills. Contestants stand on red grapes within a half barrel while a mucker (no, not a typo) ensures all the juice flows into a measuring can and filters out skins, seeds, or stems that could block the flow. The juice excised is measured and winners announced with the most clear juice. The winners are sticky, pink, and slightly smelly but appear to be feeling fantastic… even one who appeared to have made the mistake of wearing white pants.
Was challenged to find a Cinsault for a winemaker dinner and was still not able to find one. I even checked in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Healdsburg, and the Bay Area, simply because that’s where my travels took me the few days before this tasting. Why is this lovely grape only used in blends and never the star?
They Hovey Cinsault, from the Sierra Foothills county of Calaveras, had soft supple light red fruit with a tiny bit of a floral quality. It was lovely if you are not looking for a heavy wine to overwhelm your meal. Thank Chuck Hovey for keeping Cinsault alive!
You can find well crafted Italian varietals with a California edge at La Folia in Murphys. Their Barbera is my favorite with a big blue smokey flavor that lasts.
But the unique find at La Folia that is quite unexpected is a white light crisp wine that is slightly frizzante. The bubbles are present when you pour your glass but they dissipate as you are drinking. This wine is also light in alcohol so don’t worry about driving home after a glass.
Man, you can pack up your car to leave Murphys but it won’t soon leave you. Something about this place pulls you in like a warm hug. The town may be in the midst of the quintessential growth spurt of any California wine pocket but it sure has not outgrown its small town sensibilities and locals consistently doubt it ever will. Doctors will still make house calls, corner coffee shops know your order, and tasting rooms greet you by first name.
If names like The Brat, The Instigator, The Brawler, and Baby Doll don’t intrigue you, the seductive flavors of wine will. Each one tells a story as all good bottles should. The wines continue the intrigue with their balanced and complex yet very different personalities. For example, the Grenache in The Brat wants to be big and steal the show, but the Syrah is the real star without being melodramatic. It’s fruit flavors begin with bright red cherries and strawberries but finish with hearty plum and robust black cherries that linger. The Instigator is like one of those big brooding hunks that has a soft supple side. Its powerful blueberry flavors with warm chocolate and spice make you feel like you’re sitting by a warm fire.
The peeps at Prospect 772 are equally as balanced and complex. Check out this rustic rabbit stew over rich warm polenta:
El Jardin – best Mexican food in town with unique salsas
Cactus Jacks – best place to watch the Niners win the playoffs. I know, the food might be better at Firewood; but they didn’t have the sound on. Murphys Hotel may have full bar but it’s too crowded there to hear the game.
Alchemy – excellent food, wine, and beer, creative menu choices, but creative schedule. Heading over at 8PM because their website says they are open doesn’t mean they’ll be open.
Grounds – most consistently good food with a consistent schedule
V Bistro – best cocktails and pub eats.
V – best dinner for two spot in town
Mineral – best vegetarian restaurant and lovely plates
Firewood – best carnitas tacos
Magnolia – very unique menu and delicious offerings; try it for brunch
Don’t know if this is truth or legend, but I heard the man who built this jail cell in the middle of town was only paid when he finished the project. After receiving payment, he walked across the street for a few drinks, had a few too many, got into a knife fight, and became the jail’s first prisoner.