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31 Mar
2008

 

Wine Shops’ Best Kept Secret  Print

There wasn’t much fanfare announcing this rare opportunity. Visiting a local wine shop last week, I learned they were hosting a wine tasting the upcoming Saturday. They host a different winery each weekend. This past Saturday, the shop was hosting Moraga Vineyards, a winegrowing estate in the hills of Bel Air, California (some of the most expensive real estate in California).

For a nominal fee ($10 in this case), I was able to sample two vintages of Moraga’s white wine and 4 vintages of their red. Since the whites are priced around $55 per bottle and the reds range from around $125 to $200 per bottle (some are even more, depending on the vintage), the tasting fee was irrelevant. That day, Moraga was pouring its 2004 and 2005 whites (sauvignon blanc) and its 1994, 2001, 2002 and 2003 reds (blends of predominantly cabernet sauvignon with more or less merlot depending on the vintage). Moraga does not open its winery for tastings (except for those lucky enough to be on Moraga’s direct customer list), and they only sell their wines by the case (full or half bottles). So, how else could you sample several hundred dollars worth of wine for only $10?

What made the tasting special was the fact that the folks pouring the wines were Wendy, Moraga’s head of marketing & sales, and Carlos, their vineyard manager of more than 20 years. So, everyone was able to get some interesting insider insights into the differences among the various vintages.

I had previously tasted the 2005 Moraga white, but now I was able to compare it directly with the 2004 that I enjoyed even more. Although the whites were very good, the reds were clearly the draw. While the 2002 and 2003 reds were very good, the 2001 red was slightly better & smoother. The 1994 red was exceptional!

Moraga was established in 1978. Their first release (red only) was the 1989. Their first white released was the 1998. Carlos guides the process from planting through bottling. Notably, the 2003 red and 2005 white were the first true estate bottlings for the winery (earlier vintages were produced with grapes from the Bel Air vineyard that were processed and bottled in Napa Valley—Carlos dropped the grapes off personally). Carlos explained the differences in weather, fermentation and cellaring that cause the subtle differences between the vintages.

Moraga produces about 30+ barrels each of white and red wine per year now. At 80 pounds per barrel, this translates into less than 100 cases of 750 ml bottles each per year. Carlos is genuinely passionate about Moraga wines and revealed the upcoming releases of Moraga’s red (particularly the 2004 and 2006 vintages) will be exceptional (based on samplings he has taken from the barrels—the epitome of a true job perk). A special surprise was when Moraga owner Tom Jones (former CEO of Northrop Grumman) dropped in to chat with us.

You can’t beat the value and fun that a wine shop tasting presents. Ask your local wine shop what their event schedule offers. You might be in for a real treat.