Every wine lover has a progression of experiences from the jug wines or fighting varietals they started with, through the wines of Germany, Bordeaux, Spain and Italy before they get to Rhone blends (the end goal is always Burgundy for some reason). In recent months, I’ve been drinking mostly southern Rhone-style blends from France, Spain and California. Most of these have been red with Mourvdère (or Monastrell) based wines a favorite. So I was pleased when Jeff (a.k.a. El Jefe) at Twisted Oak offered some samples of his new “River of Skulls” MourvÃ¨dre/Syrah blend.
The first thing that stands out is the striking package. The red skull literally burned into the bottle signals this as something special. If you are looking for a wine for your Halloween party, look no further as your friends will be talking about both the bottle and what’s inside. The striking name is not some sort of commercial play for late October sales but a homage to local history near where the grapes were grown. It seems a Spanish Lieutenant exploring the area in the early 19th century happened across a number of skulls littered on the river bank. Being a practical man, he named this place “El Rio De Las Calaveras” or, literally, the “River of Skulls”.
The grapes for this wine were grown in the Dalton Vineyard only a short distance from the Calaveras river. Along with seven other varieties, Dalton is planted with the Spanish clone of MourvÃ¨dre (called Monastrell in Spain). Although more known in the wine world as one of the 13 grapes of the Côtes du Rhône, Mourvdère is actually a native of Spain, most likely Catalonian. The Mourvdère, which makes up 90% of the blend, was fermented with about 25% whole clusters which adds to the backbone of the wine. Later, 10% Syrah from the same vineyard was blended to provide some additional structure and complexity. Nineteen months spent in a mixture of new and neutral oak barrels (50/50) provides the seasoning here.
Like some other wines I’ve recently tasted, River of Skulls is only available on an allocated mailing list. Since I just was able to sign up myself it’s still open, but I’d suggest you do this soon before the wine is sold out.
Twisted Oak, “River of Skulls”, Mourvdère, Dalton Vineyard, Calaveras County ($35 retail/$28 to club/received as sample) – Dark ruby in color with aromas of black cherry, fennel, tobacco, clove, and vanilla. Bold and concentrated blackberry and dark cherry fruit joined by cracked black pepper, some tar and sweet oak finishing long with moderately firm tannins. I’d recommend laying this one down for 2-3 years and see what emerges as there is plenty of fruit to stand up to the alcohol. I’m holding my second sample back a couple years and will blog my notes here sometime in late 2010.
Natural cork closure