By Celia Strong
It’s not often we talk about a bottle of wine and a poker game in the same conversation. It’s not even like talking about one segues into the other. But, with our usual good luck, today we get to do just that. Hopefully, we won’t be playing poker while we do our lesson. Unless, of course, you must? Personally, I love our lessons, and I don’t like playing poker at all. It hurts too much when I lose. Besides, my luck runs with our wines. Not in any cards I’ve ever played. But, so as not to waste any time, we need to move on. We have multiple mini-lessons to cover. Multiple is good. We’ll learn a lot. Mini is great. We can speed along and get to tasting sooner.
Let’s start with a review of the term “claret.” Years ago, this term referred to the red wines from Bordeaux. Especially in England. Years ago, like 300 or so, these red wines were not as dark a shade of red as they are now. They were, more accurately, “claret” colored. Because this name referred to Bordeaux wines, it makes sense that it still is used when discussing wines made from the same five grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Today, there are many California wineries that make red blends, using some combination of these grapes. Sometimes all five. Sometimes just two, or three, or four. All in their own chosen percentages. In previous lessons, we have enjoyed several of them.
One of these grapes, I don’t think we’ve ever really looked at. Petit Verdot. Definitely one of the lesser known grapes around. It was grown in the Bordeaux region of France before Cabernet Sauvignon was even thought of. Its name means “small green.” A reference, probably, to the fact that it ripens late. Which means it stays green longer on its vines. When Petit Verdot does ripen, it brings stout tannins, deep purple color and concentrated fruit flavors to wines. That means, outside of Bordeaux which is a relatively cool growing region, this grape has a chance to do more than it is known for. Argentina has some Petit Verdot wines that are 100% this variety and are huge, intense wines. With all the blends from California, that state has about 1,000 acres of it planted. Petit Verdot’s aromas include dark fruits mixed with cedar, smoke, vanilla and spice. Its flavors are dense dark fruits like blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and black plum. On its own, the wines are dark, heavy and rich. In blends, even when diluted by other varieties, you can imagine what Petit Verdot can do.
Murphy-Goode is our winery this week. This is a family owned and operated winery, being passed down to younger generations. It was started in 1985, by Tim Murphy, Dave Goode and Dave Ready. While they played a game of Liar’s Dice. See, the games? With the wine? (Actually, one of their red blends is called “Liar’s Dice – a Zin based blend.) Over the years, since their first wine, more and more have been added. Especially red blends made with the Bordeaux varieties. And, like their parents, the younger generation mixes their wine making their fun. David Ready, Jr is the winemaker now. Work in the winery and the vineyards ends the day at tables under trees or in sheds playing cards and drinking their wines. What card game. ‘All In” poker. (I looked this term up and it means you play all the money or chips you have on the table. It’s also known as “table stakes.”) All In, though, is the name of their newest red blend wine. Claret. The current vintage has an Alexander Valley AVA and it is 42% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Merlot gives dark cherry aromas and flavors. The Cabernet brings blackberry and thyme notes to this wine. The Petit Verdot gives it richness and depth. And a hint of anise. Truly, a huge percentage of Petit Verdot in the world of California blends. The blend is aged for 14 months in oak barrels. French and American; old and new. A big, robust wine that will pair well with meat. Beef, of course, but lamb and game, too. It pairs well, too, with friends and family. And good times. They said so at Murphy-Goode. So All In it is. At least in my glass. For $16.99. Enjoy.