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Columns – Rebecca Murphy

A Good Wine Year
Rebecca Murphy
Dec 27, 2016

This year was a good year in wine for me. I am grateful that I get to travel to wine regions around the world and meet people who generously share their time, knowledge, experience and wines. One of the aspects I most appreciate about wine as a subject of study--aside from the enjoyment factor--is that one will never learn it all. Following are brief profiles of just a few of the people who taught me more about wine in 2016: Wink Lorch, Pascal Marty, Patrick Valette, Tom Donahue and Sabrina Lueck.

Firriato: A Sicilian Star
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 15, 2016

'Sicily is a wine continent,' said Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato. 'We try to get the best from every scenario.' Federico is the son-in-law of Salvatore and Vinzia di Gaetano, founders of the Firriato wine company, established in 1984. The company has vineyards in four estates in Trapani, the westernmost province of Sicily, one on Mt. Etna, on the eastern side of the island, and one on the small island of Favignana off the coast of Trapini. As they like to say, three terroirs: Hill in the Trapini countryside, mountain on Etna, and sea on Favignana. The idea is to embrace the blessings of Sicily's various soil types and climatic conditions to create multidimensional wines.

Wines of Brazil: Hitting Their Stride
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 4, 2016

The recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro brought attention to all things Brazilian, including its wine. Yes, Brazil may be better known for Carnaval, beaches, beautiful women, the Amazon River, soccer, the World Cup, coffee and the Olympics, but it is also becoming known for its wines.

Viña Vik: A Dream Coming True in Chile
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 23, 2016

Alexander Vik had a dream: To create the best wine in South America. Vik assembled an expert team of oenologists, climatologists, geologists, viticulturists and agronomists to find the ideal site in South America to produce his dream wine. They settled on a spot about two hours south of Santiago, across the mountains from Apalta, home of Montes and Casa Lapostolle. It was nearly 11,000-acres of virgin wine territory in the fortuitously named Millahue (mee YAH who way) Valley, an indigenous people's name for 'place of gold.'

Columbia Gorge: A World of Wines in 40 Miles
Rebecca Murphy
Jul 12, 2016

The Columbia River forms 309 miles of the border between Washington and Oregon, with the 46th parallel forming the remainder to the eastern border with Idaho. The Columbia River Gorge is a canyon running for approximately 90-miles--with walls as high as 4,000 feet--which the river cut through the Cascades Mountain Range. The spectacular landscape, stunning beyond exaggeration, was created over millions of years involving active volcanoes and devastating floods. It is the only sea level pathway through the Cascades.

The Remarkable Life of Wine Legend Peter Sichel
Rebecca Murphy
May 17, 2016

Peter Sichel was born into the wine business that his family established in 1857. However, he didn't get into the business himself until he was 37 years old, after an illustrious career in the OSS, then the CIA. That was after he and his family escaped Nazi Germany to New York City by way of France, Spain and Portugal with an internment camp stay along the way. He has chronicled his life and career in his memoir, "The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy." It is a captivating story of a fascinating, and at times frightening life. He describes it as, 'Really three books: growing up (Jewish) in Nazi Germany, about American intelligence and a book about the wine business, really more about the business of wine than about wine.'

Bobby Cox: Back at Pheasant Ridge
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 29, 2016

My husband and I hosted a 'clean out the cellar' party last fall in preparation for a major downsize move. We warned our guests that some wines might be long past their best, but we opened some that were as good as they should be and some were delightful surprises. The Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1979 was glorious, still vibrant and alive. A Chateau de Jau 1997 from the Roussillon was at its peak…so smooth and delicious. But the wine that really took my breath away was from Lubbock Texas. It was the 1987 Pheasant Ridge Proprietor's Reserve Red made by Bobby Cox.

A New Look at Bordeaux
Rebecca Murphy
Feb 16, 2016

When is the last time you served a wine from Bordeaux? It seems as if these wines have almost disappeared from everyday enjoyment or placements on wine lists, but maybe that's just in the U.S. Maybe all the Bordeaux love is going to China. Apparently, the Bordelais have begun to notice that we're not drinking their wines, because I was recently offered a group of wines to sample. The criteria for their selection included producers under 40 years of age, availability in the U.S., prices of $40 or less, and being representative of the diversity of wine styles from the region. I was delighted by the quality for price ratio shown by the wines, the diversity of style, and--in most cases--the modest alcohol. I have listed some of my favorites later in the column.

A Hearty Cheer for Colby and Daryl Groom
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 5, 2016

Winemaker Daryl Groom and his son, Colby are working toward a big goal this year: To reach $1,000,000 raised for charities supporting heart health. At the end of 2015, they had raised $700,000. Daryl says it will be a stretch to reach the million-dollar mark in 2016, but they are going to go for it. As you might suspect, Daryl's fund-raising project involves wine. His illustrious career includes a stint as winemaker of Australia's iconic Penfold's Grange from 1984 to 1989. He moved from Australia to Sonoma County in 1989 where he rebuilt Geyser Peak from making lackluster wines to award-winning, age-worthy wines. He's headed multi-national wine companies and oversees the winemaking of the small, family-owned Groom wines in Australia. The charity fundraising idea, however, was Colby's, not Daryl's, and as sometimes happens, it was the result of a near-death experience that began when Colby was eight and a half years old.

Three Sources for Exemplary New World Chardonnay
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 17, 2015

This has been a year of discovery, but then every year, every day, I learn something new about wine. I was particularly excited to discover--or, in one case, rediscover--three glorious New World Chardonnays. All three are produced by wineries whose founders have been pioneers in their regions and prescient, as well as persistent (you might even say dogged), in their pursuit of exceptional examples of a wine that can be quite trivial. I was introduced to the Chardonnays of Kumeu River Wine of New Zealand and Vasse Felix of Margaret River (from Western Australia), and got reacquainted with Stony Hill of Napa Valley. If you haven't tried them yet, you are in for a series of treats.

Exciting Wines from Secret Spain
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 29, 2015

In 2014, Spain was number three in the world in wine production behind France and Italy. Spain's tradition of wine production began when the Phoenicians planted vines 3,000 years ago in the area where sherry is now produced. I like Spanish wines for the variety of styles and the usually high quality-to-price ratio. So, it was not a difficult decision to participate in a Wines of Spain webinar about the lesser known wine regions of Spain hosted by Lucas Payà, a Washington DC food and beverage consultant who has worked as a sommelier at Ferran Adrià's Il Bulli and wine & beverage director for the José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup. We visited several Spanish wine regions via the wines in our glass and commentary from Lucas.

Celebrating Walla Walla
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 4, 2015

Agriculture has long played an important role in the economy of Washington's Walla Walla Valley. Historian William Lyman wrote in 1901 that, "The beautiful city stands as a monument to the wealth that has been dug out of the ground by means of wheat; furthermore, the per capita wealth of Walla Walla was only surpassed by Hartford, Connecticut; Helena, Montana; and Portland, Oregon.' Wheat is still an important crop in the rolling hills surrounding Walla Walla, but wine grapes have become a big contributor to the area's economy. The Walla Walla Valley AVA (or American Viticultural Area), was established in 1984. At that time there were four wineries and 60 acres of grapes, according to a report prepared for the Washington Wine Commission by Stonebridge. Walla Walla now boasts 120 plus wineries--the largest concentration of wineries in the state--and 1600 acres of vines according to the Walla Walla Wine Alliance.

The Exemplary Wines of Alois Lageder
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 9, 2015

I have long admired Alois Lageder for his commitment to quality wines, biodynamic farming and energy efficient facilities. He and his team make the style of wines I love--intense, structured and pure--so I jumped to the chance to taste wines with him one morning last month. Lageder's winery and vineyards are located in the very interesting area of Sudtirol-Alto Adige, just north of Verona. 'It is where the north and south come together,' he explained.' We have the cool air of the Alps and the warm sun of the Mediterranean.' It is Italy's northernmost wine region, situated on the borders of Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria, and though it is one of the smallest wine regions in Italy, it nevertheless boasts the largest percentage of vineyard area classified as DOC.

Portuguese National Treasure: Quinta do Noval
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 21, 2015

In June of 2005, a group of Port producers held a tasting in Bordeaux celebrating the 50 years between the 1963 and 2003 with a tasting of those celebrated vintages. It was one of the many side events surrounding VinExpo 2005. I had just spent a week tasting Champagnes. I know, poor me…my tongue was suffering the ravages of acidity and tiny bubbles. After a couple of sips of Port, at 19 or 20 percent alcohol, my tattered tongue was aflame. I was about to give it all up, when I arrived at the Quinta do Noval table. I was amazed to find that--with these wines--my tongue had no complaint.

Inaugural Women of the Vine Global Symposium
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 17, 2015

The first Women of the Vine Global Symposium attracted a sold out audience of 500 attendees March 12-14, at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley. The event was the brainchild of Deborah Brenner, who wrote Women of the Vine, published in 2006. She assembled an advisory panel from around the U.S. as well as Australia and the U.K. to help shape the program. Speakers came from within and outside the wine business. I've been to many wine gatherings in my many years as a wine professional, but I don't think I have seen an audience with such a diversity of roles in the wine business and such a wide range of age and experience.

Virginia on the Rise
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 20, 2015

Thomas Jefferson was a serious wine lover, a taste he acquired due to a U. S. diplomatic appointment to Paris in 1784. He tried unsuccessfully to grow grapes at his Monticello estate and he dreamed of producing wine in Virginia. He gave land to Filippo Mazzei, an Italian viticulturist recommended to him by Benjamin Franklin, to plant a vineyard. However, the tumultuous founding of the American republic-and--Jefferson's many different involvements in it--proved a distraction and the vineyard never came to successful fruition. Nevertheless, Jefferson's dreams of successful viticulture in his beloved Virginia are finally being actualized in impressive ways.

The Unlikely Miracle of Tokaji Aszú
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 18, 2014

Tokaji Aszú--the wine Louis XIV of France declared 'the king of wines and wine of kings' is--legendary. Its fans have included such luminaries as Pope Pius IV, the Greats - Peter, Catherine and Frederick, Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria. Tokaji Aszú is golden amber in color with intensely concentrated dried fruit flavors layered with such seasonings as lemon grass, dried roses, chalk, caramel, burnt orange, coffee or molasses, depending upon the age of the wine. Sweet, yes--but with focused acidity that slices through the unctuous flavors cleansing the palate and gracing it with a lingering memory of its pleasure.

Rare but Remarkable: Wines from Switzerland
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 23, 2014

Ever found a bottle of Swiss wine in the U.S.? This is actually quite difficult to do. Several factors help to explain this unfortunate state of affairs. First of all, the Swiss themselves are avid wine consumers, wisely drinking most of the wine they make. As a result, they export less than two percent of their production. In fact, they import a lot of wine, partly because they can't meet demand with domestic production (and also perhaps to add more red wines to their home grown whites, which predominate). Swiss wines are also tough to find here because they are pretty expensive, due largely to scarcity, a strong currency, and relatively high wages for workers. But none of this changes the fact that the wines are distinctive and delicious.

Multiple Worlds of Antinori
Rebecca Murphy
Jul 29, 2014

Last month on a sunny Napa Valley day, Piero Antinori was explaining how he and his family came to own Antica Napa Valley, a 1200-acre property at the end of Soda Canyon Road in the Atlas Peak American Viticultural Area. In 1985, he was scouting potential vineyard and winery investment properties for a partnership that included his importer, Whitbread. 'I fell in love with the place. It reminded me of some of the hills of Tuscany.' It's easy to see why Antinori was drawn to this Foss Valley property. It shares similarities to his famous Tignanello vineyard in the heart of Chianti Classico: Lots of rocks and elevations over 1100 feet.

New Zealand Odyssey
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 3, 2014

I've just returned from New Zealand, and confess that I'm still jetlagged and absorbing the experience. I've wanted to go for a long time, but it's so far away, I wondered if I wanted to go all that way for…Sauvignon Blanc? My expectations were modest based upon my lack of knowledge and imagination. I wasn't surprised that it was stunningly beautiful. I've seen 'Lord of the Rings,' after all. So happily, my expectations were exceeded. And, I learned that there is much more to New Zealand wines than Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. With organizational assistance and guidance from Wines of New Zealand, the trip went exceedingly well.

Georgia on My Mind--For Wine
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 8, 2014

With the controversial Winter Olympics in Sochi quickly followed by the overthrow of a government in the Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea, the Caucasus region is among the world's most troubled hotspots. Fortunately, I managed to visit the Republic of Georgia between the current crises and the previous round of conflict, when Russia invaded the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I was with a group of U.S. wine professionals including Masters of Wine, winemakers, writers, importers and wine tour planners sponsored by USAID. Our job was to observe and evaluate the wines, wineries and opportunities for wine tourism and to help Georgian vintners get a better understanding of how to market their wines to U. S. consumers

Sake for Wine Lovers
Rebecca Murphy
Dec 17, 2013

Every now and then I lift my nose out of a wine glass and discover other beverages deserving attention, such as sake. The world of sake has been a mystery to me, so I jumped at an opportunity to take a class with John Gaunter, courtesy of Vine Connections, a sake importer. The class was in Las Vegas and, since I'm not much of gambler, I wasn't distracted from my studies. This was fortunate, because Gauntner's class was very intense with a lot of new vocabulary, covering a lot of territory and including a test at the end of the class.

Lone Star Wine on the Rise
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 29, 2013

The first time I visited a Texas winery was in 1977, at a Texas Grape Growers Association meeting in the Hill County. Part of the meeting was a tour of local vineyards. There was a horticultural advisor sitting in the back of the tour bus saying, 'Yew cain't grow vinifera in Texas,' which made me wonder why we didn't all just go home. Grapes from the vinifera species make the world's best wines, so this wasn't a promising pronouncement. Nevertheless, Texas has big ambitions in all things, so perhaps it was inevitable that the Lone Star State would manage to muster an industry of note.

A Meeting with Michael Mondavi
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 24, 2013

I recently met with Michael Mondavi, co-founder with his father of the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 and currently head of Michael Mondavi Family Estates. The family business includes his wife Isabel, son Rob Jr. and daughter Dina. The first company they created in 2004, after Michael left Robert Mondavi Winery, was Folio Fine Wine Partners, an import and marketing company. In 2006, the Michael Mondavi Family Estate was established. Notice that in neither venture is the name Mondavi paired with the word wine or winery, apparently a condition of the sale of the Robert Mondavi Winery, which at some point Michael was able to renegotiate for his brand.

Intricate, Elegant Wines...From a Volcano?
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 6, 2013

Wineries from Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located at the toe of Italy's boot, have gained a reputation for producing high-quality, dry wines thanks to the efforts of producers such as Planeta, Donnafugatta and Tasca d'Almerita. Perhaps the most interesting and exciting wines from the entire island, however, are coming from vineyards wrapped in a crescent around the tallest volcano in Europe and the most active of its kind in the world. According to UNESCO, which declared Mount Etna a World Heritage Site in 2013, the volcano's earliest activity can be traced back 500,000 years, but it continues to rumble away, and was active as recently as May of this year.

The High-End Lowdown on Vinho Verde
Rebecca Murphy
Jul 2, 2013

Vinho Verde is a deliciously refreshing, slightly bubbly, low alcohol white or rosé that is nearly perfect wine for warm weather. These attributes are highly prized by those who have experienced Vinho Verde's peerless refreshment value, and yet there is even more to it than just refreshment. In addition to being a wine type, Vinho Verde is also an appellation that produces serious--and seriously delicious--wines made from the Alvarhino grape as well as other varieties that are native to the area. I confess that I didn't appreciate this fully until I recently judged a wine competition to pick the five best Vinho Verde wines.

Why You Like the Wines You Like
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 23, 2013

Tim Hanni, MW has been a wine guru to me for many years, so I was interested in reading his newly released book, Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine. He's been professionally involved with wine for more than 20 years. I think it's safe to say he's a wine geek, but he became dissatisfied with much of the conventional wine wisdom he encountered in his career. The result is a chronicle of his quest to understand taste physiology and how it affects our wine and food choices.

Champagne Biz and Farmer Fizz
Rebecca Murphy
Feb 12, 2013

During a visit last fall to the Champagne region of northern France sponsored by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne or CIVC, I was reminded of the diversity of size and style of producers. Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon is the increasing number of growers who make their own wines. The official term for them, which you will see on their bottles is Recoltants-Manipulants (RM). Wine marketer and poet-philosopher Terry Thiese calls these wines 'Farmer Fizz.'