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Columns – Rebecca Murphy

How I Got Here: My Education in Wine
Rebecca Murphy
May 29, 2024

May 29, 2024: After my first marriage I had two hungry boys and an immediate need for a job. Answering an ad for cocktail waitress provided me the opportunity to work in a white tablecloth restaurant with a good wine list and a wine steward. When he left for other pastures, I had the temerity to offer to replace him. My boss's first reaction was, 'Rebecca, you're not strong enough carry a box of wine.' He didn't realize that a woman who had to carry twin boys around had well developed biceps, which overcame his need to search for a replacement. The job was called wine waiter, but-in retrospect-it became apparent that I had accidentally become the first female sommelier in the state of Texas, and one of the first in the US. Needless to say, diners were curious about my role. They would ask many intrusive questions. Some of the mildest included whether my father owned the restaurant, or If I was working my way through school. Additionally, there was an occasional episode of what we now know to be sexual harassment. Fortunately, my talent for cursing enabled me to weather such events.

Uruguay's Star: Tannat
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 6, 2024

March 6, 2024: A recent webinar I attended featuring Tannat wines from Uruguay, hosted by Peter Granoff, MS. It brought back fond memories of my visit to that South American country four years ago. It is a beautiful place, with the Atlantic Ocean on the southeast, the Uruguay River on the west bordering Argentina, and Brazil to the north and east. The star variety of Uruguay is Tannat, a red grape with thick skins and a high tannin content. According to Wine Grapes by Robinson et al., Tannat was first mentioned in the Hautes-Pyrénés in southwest France in 1783-4. The Tannat grape made its way to Uruguay nearly a century later. The Uruguay Wine website states 'the first commercial vineyard was planted by Basque immigrant Pascual Harriague who brought the Tannat vine, native to his Basque home in Europe, and planted it in Salto in northern Uruguay in 1870.'

Argentina's Domaine Bousquet: Cultivating Excellence from an Ideal Environment
Rebecca Murphy
Dec 20, 2023

Dec. 20, 2023: Anne Bousquet, Co-owner of Domaine Bousquet in Argentina, visited Texas a few weeks ago. I was excited to meet her, because I admire the wines made at their address. The winery and vineyards are located in the Gualtallary region in the Tupungato district named after the volcanic Mount Tupungato of Mendoza's Uco Valley, situated close to the border with Chile. They focus their attention to the soil in their vineyards and have certifications for organic agriculture (ECOCERT), regenerative (ROC), and biodynamic (Demeter) practices. You are probably more familiar with organic and biodynamic agriculture than with regenerative agriculture. It involves activities to restore soil.

Sicily Road Trip
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 25, 2023

Oct 25, 2023: My husband and I recently returned from visiting wineries in Sicily. I am fortunate to have visited the vinous island three times. The first was with the British-based Circle of Wine Writers in 2013. The second was a press trip in 2016 and, the third was the Etna Days event sponsored by the Etna Consorzio in 2022. My husband decided it was time for him to go to Sicily and started planning a trip for us. Turns out that Sicilian wineries welcome visitors 'Napa Style,' at a price with a reservation. He made a list of the wineries he thought we should visit and started researching. He was able to make and pay for reservations for most of the wineries on his list. Notably, nearly every winery offers not only a tour and tasting, but food as well. I must admit I was skeptical. I had visions of an Amy Poehler movie like "Wine Country," with groups of rowdy party animals. Turned out I was wrong as fellow guests were respectful enthusiasts at every winery we visited. Over six days we drove the entire length and width of the island and visited six wineries. Following is a snapshot of three of them.

Italy's Superb Collio Region
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 6, 2023

Sept. 6, 2023: As our plane flew over the Collio wine region I noted a pattern of shrubs and forested areas along with the vineyards. Sustainable viticulture is a very important topic in agriculture and one of its pillars is biodiversity. Nature does not like a monoculture. In many wine regions, vineyard and winery owners have to work hard to develop such biodiversity. In Collio, it's been happening for decades. The Collio DOC was created in1968 within the Friuli-Venezia Giulia Slovenia DOC, which shares a border with Austria on the north and Slovenia on the east. On a map it has the shape of stretched 'C' lying on its back. It has been described as a natural landscape with a variety of plants located two hours from the Julian Alps and 130 kilometers from the coast of the Adriatic Sea. There are rolling hills offering different exposures to sunlight. The soil, called Ponca, consists of marl and sandstone, which is thought to slow ripening, add acidity, and produce wines with a touch of mineral character. Ponca also has a tendency to slide. The grower's answer to that is to plant the vines on terraces.

Take It Easy with Flavor Descriptors
Rebecca Murphy
May 3, 2023

May 3, 2023: Wine is complicated and at the same time, it's simple. Complicated because it is a complex creation that one can spend a lifetime studying and still have more to learn. Simple because it can bring great pleasure that requires nothing more than enjoying it. The fact is that our ability to smell and taste is complicated and many researchers are working toward a better understanding of how it all works. It's the nose that discerns different aromas while the tongue identifies the tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Humans have a range of 5,000 to 10,000 taste buds and each of those taste buds have 50 to 100 specialized sensory cells. Taste buds are on the tongue, the top of the mouth and the back of the throat. The tongue map that you may have seen in school indicating that these tastes are sensed in specific parts of the tongue has long been debunked.

Yalumba: Still Striving, 174 Years Later
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 1, 2023

March 1, 2023: Yalumba Winery, in the Barossa Valley, was established by Samuel Smith in 1849, making it the country's oldest family winery. I visited the winery in 2008 with members of the London-based Circle of Wine Writers as guests of Wine Australia. I was surprised and impressed to see that they had created a nursery to supply the plant material for their vineyards. That requires climate-controlled space and knowledge and expertise in plant propagation. Recently, I met Chief Winemaker Louisa Rose and tasted a few of her wines via Zoom. She assured me that the nursery is still providing plant material, plus they now have a cooperage on-site to create their barrels per the winemaker's needs. Yalumba is the only winery in the Southern Hemisphere with such a luxury. The Hill-Smith family are zealous in ensuring the quality of the ingredients that contribute to their wines. Ms. Rose agreed. 'We like to have control of the process.'

Two Sources of Wine Learning from 2022
Rebecca Murphy
Dec 29, 2022

Dec. 29, 2022: Although I have been working with wine for more years than I choose to calculate, I find that there is always more to learn and people willing to share their knowledge. Thinking back over this past year, two men from California come to mind: Dan Zepponi, President and CEO of Two Estates Wine Collective which includes Cuvaison Winery in Carneros and Brandlin Estate in Mount Eden, and Arpad Molnar, Co-owner of Obsidian Ridge Winery in Lake County.

Majestic Mount Etna's Marvelous Wines
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 19, 2022

Oct. 19, 2022: I recently attended 'Etna Days,' an international conference in Sicily, to learn more about the wines of Mount Etna. It was created and sponsored by the Etna Consorzio, the association of producers and grape growers, for Etna wines. Their stated purpose was to promote Mount Etna wines and facilitate relationships between producers and journalists. Wines made from grapes grown in volcanic soils are gaining recognition for their ability to express a sense of the place where they were grown. Mount Etna is Europe's largest and most active volcano. It is classified as a stratovolcano, built up of alternate layers of lava and ash over time. It began at the bottom of the sea and today is about 10,900 feet tall, a figure that changes with eruptions. Wine grape vines have thrived for more than 3,000 years, because of the soil created by the volcano. According to the Consorzio, the cultivation of wine grapes was likely developed by the Greeks in the 8th century BC. Evidence of ancient winemaking can still be found in large, natural stone basins where grapes were crushed by foot.

Striking Wines from California's Volcanic Lake County
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 11, 2022

August 10, 2022: The wine country of Lake County is located in the California coastal range, north of Napa and Sonoma and east of Mendocino County. 'It is a geographic, geological oddity created by volcanic activity that is still going on underground. At 4,300 feet, Mount Konocti towers over Clear Lake, which is second largest body of fresh water in the state.' This was among the interesting facts emerging from a seminar hosted by Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast earlier this year. Volcanic wines have become a hot topic in the wine world. Canada's first Master Sommelier, John Szabo, who wrote Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power was also among the speakers. Peter Molnar, co-founder of Obsidian Wine Company, and Joy Merrilees, Vice President of Production at Shannon Family of Wines, provided first-hand accounts of the challenges and joys of making wines grown in volcanic soils.

Five Takes on Sangiovese
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 15, 2022

June 15, 2022: The Italian wine grape Sangiovese grape is known by a laundry list of synonyms such as Brunello, Prugnolo, Grechetto Rosso, Morellino, Nielluccio, Puttanello. Then there is the story that it came from Jupiter's blood. It is considered an ancient variety from Italy and it has been around enough to have had multiple theories developed regarding its origin and parentage. According to Wine Grapes by Robinson, et al., DNA analysis by Vouillamoz, et al. showed that is a natural cross of Ciliegiolo of Tuscany and Calabrese di Montenovo of Calabria. I recently had the opportunity to taste five Sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany, which was a great opportunity to explore the different personalities of the grape grown in the regions of Carmignano, Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Morellino di Scansano, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sangiovese is a bit like Pinot Noir, thin skinned and very particular about the place where it is grown, so it was interesting to taste these wines together.

Experiencing the Wines of the Valle de Guadalupe
Rebecca Murphy
May 3, 2022

May 4, 2022: Recently I joined a group on a culinary trip to the Valle de Guadalupe organized by members of the Mexico Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, an international non-profit organization of women in the food, beverage and hospitality professions. Valle de Guadalupe is in the Mexican state of Baja California, about two hours south of San Diego. It is on a peninsula which is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Gulf of California on the east. The terrain is very similar to southern California. Baja is responsible for 90 per cent of wines produced in Mexico. The problem is that we don't see many of those wines in the U.S. So, I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit a few wineries and taste their wines.

An Unlikely Wine Life in the Canary Islands
Rebecca Murphy
Feb 15, 2022

Ollie Horton has fond memories of family holidays on Lanzarote, the fourth largest island in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. His parents bought an apartment on the island in 1986 that became a home away from their Guernsey home. He and his brother became avid surfers. When family holidays stopped, he continued going there with friends. When he reached the age of 30, the company where he worked as an investment manager was sold. Lanzarote had long been in the back of his mind as the place where the weather and the surf is good. A place where he might like to live. He decided to go for it. He is still there today, and has created a wine business, Wine Tours Lanzarote and Wine Shop Lanzarote.

Lanzarote: Vinous Wonderland in the Canary Islands
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 30, 2021

Lanzarote is the fourth largest and easternmost island of the seven Canary Islands located just under 75 miles from the western Africa coast. Wines were produced on Canary Islands as early as the first decades of the 15th century and the discovery of America created opportunities to supply outbound ships. By the second half of the 16th century Canary wines were so famous that Shakespeare mentioned them in Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor. However, none of those wines were produced in Lanzarote, because the conditions were not conducive for growing wine grapes or fruit trees. It took a cataclysmic event to make grape growing possible. From 1730 to 1736 Lanzarote endured ongoing volcanic eruptions that destroyed whole villages. The landscape was covered by volcanic ash as deep as six feet. Farmers began to discover that this ash actually provided a benefit.

Exciting, Delicious Wines from Tenerife, Canary Islands
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 28, 2021

Tenerife is the largest of seven islands that make up Spain's Canary Islands, an archipelago nearly 537 miles off the coast of Morocco. I recently had a short visit that made me want to return with more time. In the 30 minute drive from the airport to my hotel, I was impressed by the dramatic elevations and lush vegetation of the landscape and the beautiful, bright, clear blue seas. The island is home to Europe's highest altitude vineyards up to 1,700m (5,780ft) on the slopes of El Tiede, a stratovolcano. These volcanoes are characterized by a steep profile and periodic, explosive eruptions.' The last eruption by El Tiede was in 1909. El Tiede is on the northern side of the island with an Atlantic climate with high humidity and rainfall. The altitude where the vines are planted is above the fog line with lower rainfall and humidity, a greater temperature difference between day and night, and more intense sunlight, all conditions that allow grapes to thrive and ripen.

Singular Success from a Duo of Portuguese Regions
Rebecca Murphy
Jul 20, 2021

The invitation read, '2 Regions 2 Estates 1 Winemaker 2021.' I was intrigued. The regions were in Portugal: the Douro and Vinho Verde, two regions both beautiful in very different ways. Two regions with very different, but delicious wine styles. Who is this one winemaker who gets to work with the wines from these two great wine regions? Invitation accepted.

Oregon Exemplars: Stoller Wine Group
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 20, 2021

Stoller Wine Group, based Dayton, Oregon in the Willamette Valley, includes Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem Winery, Chemistry, History, and Canned Wines. The company's creator and driving force is Bill Stoller, who did not begin his business career in wine. He was co-founder of Express Employment Professionals in 1983, and in 2001 founder of Xenium, a human resources outsource company. His initial foray into wine began as one of several investors in Ridgecrest Vineyards. Planted by the Peterson-Nedry family, it was the first vineyard on a small ridge in the Chehalem Mountains. In 1993 Stoller became a partner in Peterson-Nedry's Chehalem Winery. That same year he bought a property that had been in his family for 50 years. He began planting grapes in 1995, and the rest is history…in progress.

Jane Anson's Excellent 'Inside Bordeaux'
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 9, 2021

Jane Anson has written an excellent book entitled, "Inside Bordeaux: The Chateaux, Their Wines and the Terroir," which was released last spring. My initial thought was…do we need really another book on Bordeaux? However, this book doesn't focus only on the chateaux, it also explores the terroir of Bordeaux. Her aim was to look at Bordeaux as it is today, to look at what is changing. She said 'I couldn't escape the fact that twenty years ago-even 10 years ago-people were not taking the idea of terroir seriously in Bordeaux. I don't mean the winemakers and consultants; I mean those of us looking at Bordeaux from outside. What we are used to doing is thinking about Bordeaux as big brands.' She recalled being at a conference a few years ago with attendees from Spain, Italy, southern France, Burgundy, but no one from Bordeaux. 'When the name Bordeaux was mentioned there was laughter in the room about the idea that Bordeaux could have terroir. It made me cross living here and knowing that that was not true. It crystallized for me what I wanted to do.'

Inspiring Wines from Tenuta Sant'Antonio
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 5, 2021

Tenuta Sant'Antonio was created in 1989 by the Castagnedi brothers, Armando, Tiziano, Paolo and Massimo. It is located on the east side of the Valpolicella appellation in the Veneto region of Italy. As Armando said recently in a virtual tasting, "We are in the place where the Soave area stops and Valpolicella begins." The winery name has two inspirations: their father, and a small chapel in their Monti Garbi vineyards. Their father was a grape grower and one of the founders of the cooperative winery in Illase Valley. He was delighted when his sons told him they were planning to make wine. In the vineyards there was a small chapel named Saint Antonio of Badua, where the locals prayed. "So we decided, why not? This is our father, Antonio" said Armando. "The chapel is called Saint Antonio, so why not the name Sant'Antonio. This is the inspiration for the name."

Nimble Adaptations at Saint-Estèphe's Lafon-Rochet
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 3, 2020

Château Lafon-Rochet is in the Saint-Estèphe appellation in Bordeaux. It has been owned by the Tesseron family (not related to the Tesserons of Pontet-Canet in Pauillac) since 1960. Today a third-generation family member, Basile, has taken on the responsibilities of estate. I recently attended a virtual live harvest at Lafon-Rochet guided by Tesseron that was created by The Bordeaux Wine School and moderated by Mary Gorman McAdams, MW. Tesseron noted that winegrowers are learning to manage new extreme growing seasons. 'There is no easy comparison with any recent vintage,' he said, 'in fact the past three vintages have had extremes unique to each year.'

Gérard Bertrand: Languedoc Visionary
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 4, 2020

Gérard Bertrand has a vision for the South of France including Languedoc and Roussillon: to be the first organic wine region in the world. The former rugby star is certainly doing his share to make it happen. I recently learned more about him, and his passion and his wines, in a recent webinar, including his efforts in converting more than 2000 acres of vineyards to biodynamic practices. He noted that the South of France is an ideal place to farm organically and biodynamically because of the proximity to the sea. There is ample rain in spring, which is very welcome since they do not have irrigation. Summers are usually dry. When it does rain, the wind in the area dries the vines, which prevents diseases making it easier to use biodynamic practices.

Regarding Wine & Health
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 15, 2020

In 1989 I attended a meeting in San Francisco with a group of winemakers, wine grape growers, wine writers and physicians to discuss the creation of an organization that might provide the public with information about the health effects of moderate wine consumption. While attendees did not necessarily disagree with the then-new and now-famous "Government Warning" mandated for inclusion on wine labels, they were also aware of medical research studies which found that-when alcohol is consumed in moderation-most people enjoy health benefits. The group was concerned that the warning labels were only one side of the story and would disproportionally frighten consumers.

Vilafonté: Partnership in South African Excellence
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 28, 2020

Vilafonté is the name of a South African wine created by Zelma Long, Dr. Phil Freese of California and Michael Ratcliff of Stellenbosch, South Africa. In 1997 they had the opportunity to buy land that they thought would produce good wine grapes. Freese noted that it was basically a dry-land wheat farm, untilled, with virgin soil for a vineyard. The owner was leaving South Africa for Australia to be with his children, and the property was for sale. They studied the soil profiles by digging soil pits and determined that the soil was marginal for wheat but for wine it was 'seriously old dirt.'

Bodega Garzon: Major New Player on the Global Wine Scene
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 4, 2020

In 1999, Argentine oil and gas billionaire, Alejandro Bulgheroni and his wife, Bettina, decided to buy a 1,220-hectare property (2965 acres) in Uruguay, South America's second smallest country and home to a population of 3.4 million. It's a coastal country, shaped rather like an inverted grape bunch with Argentina to the west, Brazil to the northeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast to southwest. The rugged, undeveloped site purchased by the Bulgheronis was 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and even closer to the glamorous seaside resort of Punte del Este and the smaller, more laid-back resort town of José Ignacio. Alejandro's idea was to make it a wind farm-an idea not shared by Bettina. So, as he considered other options, an advisor suggested that the property would be great for vineyards

La Crema's Forty-Year Odyssey
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 14, 2020

La Crema, producer of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is celebrating 40 years of winemaking. To honor the occasion, winemaker Craig McAllister invited founder Rod Berglund to join him and his team in creating a wine to celebrate the anniversary. was established by Berglund, who initially called the winery La Crema VIñera, meaning, the best of the vine. He and a group of investor friends opened the winery in Petaluma in 1979. Berglund's wine knowledge was self-taught, gained from his insatiable curiosity. It was Joseph Swan who encouraged him to become a winemaker because of his observations about a wine in a blind tasting. He began working for Swan, who gained insights about making Pinot Noir in California from friend and mentor André Tchelistcheff. Called the 'Dean' or 'Father' of modern California winemaking, or simply 'The Maestro,' Tchelistcheff came to the Napa Valley in 1938 to work for Beaulieu Vineyards.

From Sting and Family: More than Another Celebrity Wine
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 12, 2019

What do you do when you, a world-famous writer and singer of songs, and your wife, an actress, movie director and producer, are looking for a summer place for family vacations? You find a 400-year old estate in Tuscany and spend years restoring the house, the groves of olive and chestnut trees and vineyards. Along the way, you buy back vineyards that previously had been sold. You add beehives and restore vegetable gardens. After 15 plus years, you have a working farm with so much wonderful produce you start offering honey, olive oil and wine. Maybe even rent out the place for weddings when you're not there. In 1997, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler fell in love with and bought Il Palagio, an agricultural estate located near the village of Figline Valdarno, south of Florence. They kept on many of the staff, and with their help and that of many others, began restoring the 400-year old property.

Hidden Gem: Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 10, 2019

A visit to the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is a step back in time to a more serene era in California wine country: no limos full of bachelorettes, wine trains or bumper-to-bumper traffic. Vineyards and wineries, mostly family owned, are small compared to other wine regions. In fact, many wineries in California have more vineyard acreage than the entire Santa Cruz Mountains AVA's total. The landscape is rugged and heavily forested. The roads through the area are winding and treacherous. While the next winery may only be a few miles away, it may take an hour to get there. Cell phone service is unreliable, an annoying irony considering that you can see Silicon Valley from the higher elevations.

How to Make Great Wine: Rudd Estate
Rebecca Murphy
Jul 9, 2019

How do you make great wine? You start with a great place with the right soils and plant grape varieties best suited to that place in hopes that they are grape varieties that people will want to buy. You farm those grapes meticulously, and as naturally as possible. You have winemaking equipment that ensures that you will make the best wines those grapes can produce. Yes, it will require major financial resources, plenty of expertise…and a passion to inspire your family and team to make your vision reality. In 1996, Leslie Rudd picked a 56-acre vineyard site in Oakville located where the Oakville Crossroad meets the Silverado Trail. As he found his vineyard sites and planned his winery, he relied upon the skill and experience of a few experts to guide him. These experts have in common a respect for traditional methods in the vineyard and the winery and a willingness to adopt modern techniques…when they prove to enhance wine quality.

Keys to Excellence at Louis Roederer
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 19, 2019

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon is the Winemaker and Executive Vice-President of Production for the venerable Champagne house of Louis Roederer. With degrees in enology and agronomy from École Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie of Montpellier, his first job at Roederer in 1989 was at Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, California. Today he oversees wine production at Scharfenberger Cellars, also in Anderson Valley, Ramos Pintos in the Douro Valley of Portugal, Château de Pez in St Estephe and Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Paulliac. He is forward thinking, curious, analytical and an inveterate experimenter.

Frozen and Fabulous: Icewine
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 22, 2019

Many of the great sweet wines of the world are made by various methods of dehydration which concentrates the natural sweetness of the grape. The grapes can be harvested late, dried on or off the vine, infected by the noble rot--botrytis, or frozen. All these methods can be tricky, requiring the utmost grower attention to avoid unwanted effects. Perhaps the most difficult sweet wine to make is ice wine. Yes, it's just like it sounds: Wine made from icy, that is, frozen grapes.

Beyond Albariño in Rias Baixas
Rebecca Murphy
Nov 27, 2018

Albariño from Rias Baixas is one of my favorite wines. What's not to like? It's a dry, fruity, floral wine with zesty acidity that is willing to share equal billing with many kinds of cuisine, especially with the abundant fresh, seafood that comes from its home region. However, I found out on a recent visit to the region--courtesy of the Rias Baixas Consejo Regulador--that Albariño can be more than just the fresh and zesty wine I love. I guess it's only natural that winemakers get bored and start trying new ways to make a great wine even better: Things like blending, lees contact and barrel aging. I found out that there's more to Rias Baixas than Albariño. I also discovered just how beautiful this wine region is.

Excellence from Bodegas Beronia
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 2, 2018

Bodegas Beronia is a winery in the village of Ollauri in the Rioja Alta region in Spain. As Rioja wineries go, it's a newcomer, having been created in 1973 by a group of businessmen from the Basque country. They were members of a private gastronomical society called a txoko, which means nook or cozy corner in Basque. These societies were traditionally for men only, a place where they could meet, prepare meals and dine, drink and smoke the night away. This group often vacationed in Ollauri where they bought a 'merendero,' the Rioja version of a gastronomical society. At first, they got wines for their meals from local wineries, but they decided that they wanted to make their own wine.

Steven Spurrier: British Hero of American Wine
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 7, 2018

Like many Americans, I first heard of Steven Spurrier when George Taber's story about a wine tasting in France made the cover of Time magazine published June 7, 1976. This cheeky Brit with a wine shop in Paris organized a blind tasting comparing California and French wines with a panel of French judges. Quelle horreur, California wines took the top spot for red and whites.

Tracing the Roots of the South in Puglia
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 12, 2018

This is the thirteenth year for Radici del Sud, or Roots of the South, a private judging and public exhibition of wines from southern Italy including Puglia, Calabria, Campania, Sicily and Basilicata. With a few exceptions, wines from these provinces don't have the name recognition of wines from areas like Tuscany and Piemonte, and that is what this event is aiming to change. In other words, the purpose of Radici del Sud is to increase awareness of wines of the South. At the awards ceremony, several of the speakers noted that the program is reaching its goal, showing an increase in wine quality, media recognition and tourism, particularly over the past five years.

Review: Wine and Place…A Terroir Reader
Rebecca Murphy
Apr 24, 2018

The French word for land is terroir, derived from medieval Latin terratorium. When referring to terroir in wine it appears to have different meanings depending upon whom one asks. When I first heard the term in the late 1970s, it had to do almost entirely with Old World wines, those mostly from Europe. New World winemakers from the U.S. Australia, New Zealand or South Africa often scoffed at the very idea. Tim Patterson, the late wine writer and home winemaker and John Buechsenstein, professional wine maker and wine educator, shared a fascination with the topic. They decided (over glasses of wine, of course) to explore the concept of terroir together.

Gaia Follows in Gaja's Footsteps
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 6, 2018

Under the leadership of Angelo Gaja, the wines of his family-owned winery in the tiny Piedmont village of Barbaresco have proved to be innovative and, at times, downright revolutionary. For most of his life he has been a visionary man on a mission: To do what it takes to explore ways improve the quality of his wines. As his daughter Gaia Gaja said at a recent tasting in Dallas, 'My father never follows any others' rules.' I've never meet Angelo Gaja, but if he is half as charming, energetic, passionate and eloquent as his oldest daughter, I can see why he is revered for his visionary role in modernizing Italian wines. My WRO colleague, Ed McCarthy, who has far more experience than I with Piedmont's wines, says he '…can think of no other wine region in which one man has singlehandedly popularized a great wine and its entire wine region.' For sure, Gaja has lead the way in setting Italian wine quality and prices to compete on the world stage.

Beloved Wine Books
Rebecca Murphy
Jan 16, 2018

I love books, especially wine books. Since I was a child, I always had my nose stuck in a book, though not wine books at the start, of course. As an adult, I've traveled with books, piling pound after pound of reading material into my backpack or briefcase. When I've devoured the material I had packed, I head out to find another book to read for the remainder of my trip. When e-readers first appeared, I was skeptical. I loved the feel of a book, the heft, the texture of the paper. I was in no way convinced of the value reading on some sort of electronic device. It was the third household move in two years that inspired my e-reader epiphany. Out with all the novels with a few exceptions and of course, my wine books.

Three Women of Bordeaux
Rebecca Murphy
Dec 5, 2017

The wine business in Bordeaux has been traditionally male dominated, but as in many businesses throughout the world, women are playing a bigger role. Or, maybe it is just that they are finally getting recognition for the role they have played all along. In any case, I met many very talented and forceful women during a recent visit courtesy of the Bordeaux Wine Council. I'd like to introduce you to three women who did not start out in the wine business, but now find themselves fully immersed and evidently loving every minute of their work.

Bordeaux Reborn
Rebecca Murphy
Oct 24, 2017

It's been a few years since I visited the city of Bordeaux. But I'm happy to report that the Grand Lady that has served as the center of the Bordeaux wine trade since Eleanor of Acquitane married England's King Henry Plantagenet has cleaned up her act. The port that sat between the Garonne River and the city center has been moved further along the river, which makes the city feel very open and welcoming. Beautiful garden spaces with lush plantings of sculptural grasses and colorful flowers lining the busy walkway along the Quai de Chartrons on the left bank of the Garonne River create softness and a feeling of calm. A large rectangular area beside the walkway holds a shallow pond that I expected to put on a water show. But no, the Miroir d'Eau, water mirror, is an art installation that regularly drains the water to a very shallow level, presenting a perfect reflection of the grand buildings on the other side of the street.

The Talented Team Behind Inglenook's Historic Revival
Rebecca Murphy
Sep 12, 2017

Francis Ford Coppola and I can date our adventures in American wine to 1975. That is the year that he and his wife, Eleanor, purchased 1560 acres of the historic Inglenook property including 1400 acres of vineyards and the Neibaum house in Rutherford in the Napa Valley. That same year I became the sommelier at Arthur's, a Dallas restaurant with an all-American wine list. That list included wines from Inglenook, one of the oldest and, at one time, one of the most prestigious wineries in the Napa Valley. As I set about learning all I could about the wines that had become my responsibility, Coppola set about restoring his portion of the historic Inglenook.

Italian Wineries…in Stereo
Rebecca Murphy
Aug 1, 2017

Two wineries in southern Italy: One clinging to a sheer rock face above the Amalfi Coast in Campania, the other spread across the Salento plain in Puglia. Both wineries grow indigenous grapes with training or planting systems devised by the Romans: One with vines draped on pergola frames perched on narrow terraces, the other with Alberello, or head-trained vines, arranged in a hexagonal pattern called settonce. Both wineries are family owned. The winery on the Amafi Coast is Cantina Marisa Cuomo. The Puglian winery is Masseria Li Veli. I enjoyed the privilege of visiting both during a recent family vacation.

Grenache: Varied and Vulnerable, but Versatile and Vivacious
Rebecca Murphy
Jun 20, 2017

As I enjoy the abundance of Grenache rosés this spring, I am again reminded about what great and distinct wines are made from this grape. Because it is often a blending grape rather than a mono-varietal star, Grenache may be the best grape variety you don't know. Maybe I should say 'Garnacha' since it is considered to be native to Spain, and it is called 'Cannonau in Sardinia,' so one reason it may hold the fame it deserves is that it travels under different names. It is extremely versatile as a cultivar, both in its red and white strains (Grenache Blanc or Garnacha Blanca), that can produce many different wines: Dry red, dry white, dry and sweet rose, as well as fortified red and white. Moreover, Grenache is similar to Pinot Noir in its very broad compatibility with food. At the table, different renditions can range from muscular reds that can stare down a steak to fresh whites that will flirt with an oyster.

Excellence and Value from the Martinez Bujanda Family
Rebecca Murphy
May 9, 2017

Joaquín Martínez Bujanda started a winery in Oyón in the Rioja region of Spain in 1889. His modest concept was to make wines from grapes he grew himself. In the early 1950s, the next generation created Cosecheros y Criadore, dedicated to making wines from their vines for export. Carlos and Pilar Martinez Bujanda--of the fourth generation--are responsible for the addition of four unique estates, two in Rioja, one in Rueda and one in La Mancha. Thus was born Familia Martinez Bujanda.

Say Susumaniello, Taste Susumaniello, and Smile
Rebecca Murphy
Mar 28, 2017

Susumaniello (sue sue man YELL oh). Say it again. Does it make you want smile? Tasting it definitely makes me smile. It is a grape I was introduced to last September during a visit to southern Puglia, the heel of Italy's 'boot.' Apparently, the grape is found only in Puglia and has a long history in the Brindisi Province. It was thought to be originally from the Dalmatian Coast, but DNA analysis by Di Vecchi Staraz and colleagues in 2007 determined that one of its parents is Garganega, which would argue against the Dalmatian Coast. Ian d'Agata in Native Wine Grapes of Italy considers Susumaniello to be 'potentially one of the up-and-coming native grapes' and notes that plantings have been increasing over the past ten years.

Wine and...Headaches
Rebecca Murphy
Feb 14, 2017

Some people believe that the sulfites in wine give them a headache. It's true that there are those who get headaches after drinking even a small amount of red wine. However, research has eliminated sulfites as the cause. Actually, researchers are still trying to determine precisely which component of wine might cause a headache.

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.