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Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Murphy Goode Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: As much as I think certain wineries need to be publicly spanked into improving their tasting-room staff, there are a few that really need to be lauded for doing a pretty darn spectacular job. And not just because they happen to recognize me, or my credit card.

Last Sunday, I strolled into Murphy Goode less than 20 minutes before closing time. Even at that late hour, when everyone's ready to call it quits, it was quite possibly one of the most perfect tasting-room experiences I've ever had.

It wasn't because it was the best wine I've ever had, though I ended up buying three bottles. And it wasn't the most impressive tasting room I've ever seen. Simple and dominated mostly by the bar, Murphy Goode relies less on selling schwag and more on the wine and its staff to make the sale. While our pourer didn't appear to possess some godlike knowledge of wine, he seemed like a guy who liked wine, liked to talk about it, liked to chat with people who asked intelligent (and not so intelligent) questions and, most importantly, liked his job. Add that to the wine, and perfection is nigh.

Mouth value: Some of the most recognizable wines in Murphy Goode's label are the Tin Roof series. These value-priced screw-top pours (usually under $7) are great for parties, but you'd do well to skip ahead to really get a sense of some of the better wines. Murphy Goode is best known for its outstanding Fume Blanc ($12). Though its actually just a fancy name for Sauvignon Blanc, the Fume is briefly oak-fermented, giving it a deeper, more vanilla-like characteristic in addition to the melon and fruit flavors Sauvignon Blanc is known for.

Also made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes is the Deuce ($19), which is both steel- and oak-fermented, then malolactically fermented. What all that means is that instead of just a crisp, fruit-forward flavor, you get a softer, creamier finish with a little more depth. Think of it as the difference between sorbet and gelato. Murphy Goode is also strong with its reds, with a stable of Pinot Noir, solid Zins, Merlots and Cabs, in addition to the rather unique Alexander Valley Petit Verdot. Usually used as a blending grape, Verdot's inky color is a beauty in the glass. The best of the bunch was the Brenda Block Cabernet ($26), a limited-production wine with lots of dark cherry and chocolate flavors in the glass.

Five second snob: Most people think of the dry, puckery Sauvignon Blanc grape as being almost exclusively steel-fermented. To keep the flavor really crisp, many vintners don't let the grape touch oak. But when young wines are exposed to oak--especially new oak--they pick up the smoky, sometimes toasty flavor of the oak, giving it depth and a more California Chardonnay-like characteristic.

Spot: Murphy Goode Winery, 4001 Hwy. 128, Geyserville, Open daily, 10:30am to 4pm. Regular tastings are free. 707.431.7644.

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From the April 20-26, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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