I first ran into Twisted Oak wines on a very hot in Calveras County, just a day before the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, there owner Jeff Stai, "El Jefe" was nice enough to give our group a tour of their immaculate wine-making facilities and the wine cave he had built into the side of a nearby hill. There we had a chance to sample many of their wines straight from the barrel. There winery dog proved he is also a wino at heart and licked the Tempranillo dripping from the end of the wine thief. This winery is what I would call squeaky clean, don't think I ever visited a better looking wine making facility than the one at Twisted Oak.
I was not able try this wine until we went to the WBC 09 and it was poured at a lighting-round tasting where each winemaker had about 15 minutes to pour their wine and quickly discuss its attributes with over 200 other bloggers in attendance. So the picture you see above was taken on our table while Jeff discussed the uniqueness of this wine and what I would call a very unusual, but certainly captivating label. Most of the time when you run into a skull on a bottle, it's an indication that poison is in the bottle. But in this case it's definitely not poison but a lovely elixir of hand crafted goodness just waiting to get into a glass near you.
Varietal Composition: Mourvèdre at 88% and Syrah balancing this wine at 12%. This wine is predominately Mourvèdre, a wine that does not suit every one's taste. Although the grape was widely planted in Spain (where it is known as Monastrell), it was generally held in dim regard, and it didn't command any more respect in either California or Australia and often goes by the name Mataro. But Mourvèdre has become a bit of a rising star as of late, if you love a good Southern Rhone wine than you know that the Mourvèdre grape is a huge source used in France's Southern Rhone valley, although it usually assigned a subsidiary role in Châteauneuf-du-Papes which tend to favor Grenache, but it is a primary ingredient in what many consider to be the finest Châteauneuf of all, Château de Beaucastel, need I say more? With Rhone-style wines becoming more fashionable, a growing number of New World producers are trying to turn Mourvèdre into a show horse and this where Twisted Oak comes into the picture, with a their own version called the 2007 Calaveras County River of Skulls
First Sniff: With the brevity of time to examine the nose of this wine, I found it displayed a classic nose of roasted meats, plums and spice and certain earthy elements.
First Swirl: After my glass was poured I allowed it to settle and tilted my glass toward the white table cloth to capture it's color which exhibited a dark ruby core and nearly transparent colored garnet rim.
First Sip: While I had to hurriedly sip my wine, spit than jot a few quick tasting notes about the River of Skulls which said, this wine features abundant quantities of blueberries and blackberries which co-mingle with some subtle gamy, smoky, earthy notes intermixed with hints of licorice leading to a long finessed finish.
Alcohol and Price: This wine sells for somewhere between $28 and $35 bones depending on where you shop and weighed in at 14.7% and was barrel aged 40% New French oak, 20% New American oak, 40% Neutral oak for certain amout of time. (couldn't find the info)
The Vineyards: According to Twisted Oak, "the grapes are sourced from Dalton and Angels Camp vineyard which is in the vicinity of the Calaveras River, AKA the River of Skulls. It is a beautiful vineyard out on Dogtown Road here in Calaveras and is planted with about 8 different varietals.
Other Voices: Bill Daley, Food and Wine Writer for the Chicago Tribune: Tobacco and earth noise. Some shroom? Good cherry notes nice acids like the fruit. Optimistic wine despite River of Skulls name and selling for $35. Wine Enthusiast gave this wine a score of 90 points.
My Recommendation: Since this beautiful wine exhibits stunning concentration, a lithe richness, and length I would definitely pick some up quickly, as they have only made a little over 900 hundred cases (correction, only 300 cases) so you better hurry. Jeff Stai and Twisted Oak in one fell swoop demonstrated that like the folks at Tablas Creek, they are also leading New World practitioners when it comes to producing exceptional wine from this tricky varietal. Until next time stay thirsty my friends!