Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Scorpion More Fun Than Frightful

And speaking of the weekly column I do for The Sacramento Bee, one that was scheduled a couple of weeks ago apparently got lost amid the year-end festivities. It was meant to highlight the Karly Wines 2007 Amador County "El Alacran" Mourvedre:

About a decade ago, I rashly compiled a list of grape varieties I felt would be the most significant in California half a century down the road.

Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel would be at the top, I foresaw then, and don't see any reason now to alter that prediction.

But I also suspected that syrah would be in that company. Today, I don't think so. While several splendid releases of syrah are on the market, you have to wade through a lot of insipid juice to get to them.

Far down the list was mourvedre, and four decades from now I see it still far down the list, yet well entrenched. It's a tough grape to grow, and a tough wine to master as a varietal, but when handled diligently delivers wave after wave of dark juicy flavor. Just ask the Buck Cobb family in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley, who bravely began to plant mourvedre in 1989. Syrah was just starting to draw attention, and Buck Cobb, who appreciates longshot gambles, figured he might as well put in a couple of acres of an even more obscure grape with Rhone Valley links.

He, his wife Karly, their son Garth and his wife Jonna not only have stuck with it, they've expanded the vineyard a bit, despite numerous challenges in growing and harvesting mourvedre. For one thing, deer, gophers, birds and bees will bypass their neighboring varieties to get to the mourvedre. Scorpions, too, swear the Cobbs.

More than one of the feisty critters has appeared in the vineyard during harvest, alarming members of the crew picking the grapes. As a consequence, the Cobbs adopted the proprietary name "El Alacran" - Spanish for "the scorpion" - for their mourvedre.

More than acknowledgment of scorpions in the vineyard, the name lets wine enthusiasts know that this is no meek wine, as shown by the current release, the Karly Wines 2007 Amador County "El Alacran" Mourvedre. It's all ripe, sweet and fleshy red fruit, highlighted with spicy notes and backed by the dulcet caress of oak from the Hungarian and Romanian barrels in which the wine was aged. While the wine is dark and robust, its smooth elegance makes it more inviting than intimidating, unlike its namesake. If you still are looking for a New Year's resolution more pleasant than daunting, vow to seek out more mourvedre in 2010, starting with the Karly.

By the numbers: 15.5 percent alcohol, 200 cases, $35.

Context: Karly Cobb, the celebrated cook in the family, recommends the mourvedre with "burned meat and fire-grilled vegetables," as well as pot roast with a brown reduction. Garth Cobb seconds the motion, but also suggests it be poured with chateaubriand.

Availability: Only at the winery, and can be ordered through Karly's Web site, www.karlywines.com.

More information: The tasting room at Karly Wines, 11076 Bell Road, Plymouth, is open noon-4 p.m. daily.

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