The Murrieta’s Well winery name is based on Old West history: Joaquin Murrieta, a.k.a. “Zorro,” would steal horses from northern California and run them down into Sonoma or Mexico, watering them from the artesian well on the property en route. The wines’ names, The Whip and The Spur, also refer to cowboy heritage.
Located in Livermore County 40 miles east of San Francisco, the winery was established in 1883 by Louis Mel, who was attracted by the gravelly soil associated with some of the great vineyard sites of France. He built a gravity-flow winery into the hillside adjacent to the famous well, and imported cuttings from renowned Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux and planted them on the property.
Bought in 1930 by the Wente family, the winery began its most recent incarnation in 1990 when Phil Wente teamed up with Chilean wine merchant Sergio Traverso to fulfill a long-standing dream to revive the historic property. Today Phil’s nephew Karl Wente is the winemaker.
We enjoyed an online tasting live-streamed from the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, hosted by Karl Wente and Executive Chef Matt Greco, recently named in the Top 50 Bay Area Chefs.
Appearance: Straw color, condensation.
Nose: Minerals, honeydew, an eensy bit of baking spice, some salt. Reminiscent of a good off-dry Riesling.
Taste: Mild peach, rose, nice acidity, honey. Karl explained they make the blend so that “each grape has a place at the table. Chardonnay can have tropical fruits, apple and pear, Semillon gives more of a fig note to the wine, the Orange Muscat brings a floral, almost a candied tangerine note to the wine, Viognier again brings a floral, like a cherry blossom or a white peach blossom, and the Sauvignon Blanc a little more of a grassy, white peach note. … Winemakers absolutely love making blends, because there’s no rules to the game. … It’s a blank slate, you can do what you want. … Any percentage, whatever works to give the best.” Heavy mouthfeel. Long finish. After warming, the white has more of a Sauvignon Blanc nose.
Pairing: Chef Matt Greco reported a slightly sweeter, slightly musty, floral smell. Flavors are “like a key of music.” He likes to pair this slightly sweet wine with smoky things as counterpoint. Matt, like Karl, is also a musician; he and Karl play together. The Wente Vineyards hosts concerts and music festivals. Chef Greco, explaining his selection of a warm, smoky potato salad (recipe follows, below) he had created to pair with the wine, said the intention of the wine-blending is “laying in a good acidity, bringing in the fruit flavors and age the best over time. Brad Bueller, the two Wentes, and Traverso all gathered together in a room with bottles of the wines and they just started blending. The same with the potato salad. Poblanos have a deep earthy taste. This potato salad achieved the same notes in different octaves: grilled onion brought it down, then added a tiny bit of shaved, raw onion on the finish. This dish accentuates the fruitiness of the wine. Vinegar of the salad and the acidity of the wine come together. The salad causes the lifting of the flavors of the wine. Really cool—sometimes you can get something that will mask it. Sometimes it’s hard to pair wines with acids/vinaigrettes. The key is balance—adding some water to the vinaigrette might balance it out. Sometimes the olive oil is too harsh. Sometimes I add a sweet element, just a little bit, to the vinaigrettes, sometimes a nice quality honey to round out the vinegar. To offset the olive oil, get a really good olive oil, and don’t use that as the entire oil ratio/content. Cut it with something neutral such as grapeseed oil; 50% olive oil ratio. It’s also okay to bring in water.”
Fermentation; more on blending: Karl said the wines were aged in a mix of stainless steel and neutral oak, “so it brings a bit of a toasty note but it’s not an oak impactful wine. Makes it easier to pair than a heavily oaked wine.” Karl explained they have 10 varieties of whites to choose from: Chardonnay, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Orange Muscat, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Muscat Canelli. Each one’s going to deliver a different flavor, acidity, texture, weight. Louis Pasteur said there’s more philosophy in a single bottle of wine than in every book he’s read.”
THE SPUR red blend (32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 21% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petite Sirah, 4% Merlot), 2009, 14.5% ABV, $14.99 and up.
Appearance: Garnet, translucent.
Nose: Oak, blood orange, black cherry, currant.
Taste: Like a bright but dusky Cabernet Sauvignon. Mouth-filling but balanced. Somewhat shrill; I think it will age well. More soprano notes as it opened. Spices in the wine too. Karl thinks the Malbec weaves it all together. Many blends strike me as confused or muted—or even somehow shocked. This has a bright shining personality. My tasting companion said, “This might be the best non-Bordeaux blend I’ve ever experienced.” Very long finish.
Pairing: Chef Matt Greco selected a flatiron steak (recipe follows, below). These are generally lean but from a place “without a lot of movement, so it’s tender.” He thinks it’s a great summer grilling steak, and he loves spices with it. Matt advised, “Always temper your meats. Let it sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. Then you’ll have an easier take on whether it’s done or not, and you’ll achieve a more even temperature. Also be sure to pat it dry before cooking.”
Blending: Karl said they have 20 red grapes to choose from including the six in this blend as well as Syrah, Touriga, Tempranillo and many more. “At the end of the day, there are no rules with wine or with food—if it tastes good, it’s good. If you like white wine with your steak, it’s good, don’t believe someone else.” The white blend takes six months to make; the red takes 18 months and, despite the oak first impression, is aged in stainless steel.
Samples received for review.
RECIPE: Warm Potato and Poblano Salad with Grilled Onion Vinaigrette.
1 lb. of Yukon potatoes
1 poblano chile (roasted and diced)
2 stalks of scallions (sliced)
1/8 cup of chopped parsley
Salt to taste
Grilled Onion Vinaigrette:
½ lb. red onion, sliced into 1-inch pieces, grilled on both sides
½ cup malt vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ cup canola oil
1 tbsp. honey
½ tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. smoked chipotle Tabasco
1 tbsp. garlic
½ cup water
Procedure: Place ingredients into blender, puree until smooth.
Procedure: Wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil. On a 350° grill, place on an indirect area of heat and close the lid. Cook for 1-1½ hours or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Unwrap the potatoes, let cool slightly. On a direct-heat area of the grill, place the poblano pepper without any oil and rotate the pepper until it is completely blistered all the way around. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, dress with the Grilled Onion Vinaigrette, and season with salt. Serve warm.
RECIPE: Spiced Rubbed Flatiron Steak
1.5 cups of smoked paprika
6 tbsp. ancho powder
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tsp. ground star anise
1 tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. ground cloves
6 tbsp. kosher salt
8 tbsp. sugar
7-ounce flatiron steaks (one per person)
Spice mix to coat
Olive oil to coat
Procedure: Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the steak, rub it into the meat. Coat the steak with the spice mix. Place the steak on a grill that is roughly 450°. Grill each side for about 2-3 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 115°. Let the steak rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing into it.