The Irish Family red blend called Pog Mo Thoin – Gaelic for “kiss my ass” – was a sample we tasted from the tank in April 2009 at the winery in Vallecito, CA. It’s pronounced Pog (with the long o sound), Mo (another long o) Hoyn (no t or th). A blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and a bit of malvasia – a OBG grape if there is one – it’s now available for sale.
The first time we went up to Calaveras County’s wine country – part of a visit to Jeff Stai and Twisted Oak Winery – we drove right past Jeff’s neighbor at Irish Family Vineyards. For some reason, we looked at the signs Irish had out and concluded it wasn’t our style of place. We so should have known better.
It was during our next visit to Twisted Oak, Jeff and one of his tasting room staffers both said Irish was really good and we should try them. They were right.
Not only does Russell Irish make some outrageously good wines, we had a blast while we were there. The room looks like a slightly cluttered barn filled with Irish memorabilia – Irish is the family name, not just their heritage. Some of it’s a little dusty and has been there a while, but it feels homey and welcoming and casual. The kind of place where you won’t be embarrassed if your elbow gets jostled and some of the wine spills.
Better yet, Jeff Stai had invited us to join him and some other couples for dinner in Murphys. Not only did Russell help the other couple in the tasting room make reservations at the same restaurant we ended up at, Russ and his wife turned out to be one of the other couples at dinner. Dinner with two professional winemakers – wow.
But back at Irish – we also got a barrel sample of Russell’s latest blend, called Pogue Mo Thoin (no, we can’t translate the Gaelic). A barrel sample is new wine that has generally been fully fermented but not aged or bottled yet. Not only was the Pogue Mo Thoin not your traditional blend, hence the name, it was the sort of wonderful stuff that… Well, the tasting notes cometh.
There are two lessons here – one is that your best source for your next stop on your personal wine tasting tour is the person pouring at the winery you like, even if you’re not sure you agree. You never know. The second lesson is that there is only one answer to the question, “Would you like a barrel sample?” Yes!!! Pretty please? Yes! Yes!!!
We love blends. They can express the full palate of a terrior – think Burgundy or Bordeaux. They can also demonstrate the combined skills of a winemaking team that includes vineyard staff and cellar rats alike. As a bonus, every winery has the option of creating its own brand of cola product.
In this case,the resulting aroma is licorice/anise with some berries. The first taste was that of spices like black pepper and cloves. Dusty fruit, or a ripe taste that’s not overly sweet, is balanced with less acid and more tannins, thanks to a combination of American, Hungarian and older French oak barrel aging. There is some noticeable dryness from the tannins that would cut through the weight and richness of a steak, a savory winter beef stew or some lamb chops medium-rare with some pinkness at the bone.
Twisted Oak’s 2005 Tempranillo is one of those wines that just seems to fit in anywhere. It’s rich, but not overpowering – the subtle kind of wine that stands out just enough to be memorable without taking over.
Tempranillo is one of those up and coming grapes. We’ve seen it here and there for a number of years. In fact, tempranillo seems to be about where syrah was almost 10 years ago. People had heard of it, but you rarely saw it on the shelf at the supermarket. Of late, in places like California, tempranillo is getting the treatment previously reserved for cabernets and pinot noir and in the right hands and in the right soils, it is a glorious thing.
The grape, itself, is a blue/black grape most commonly used in blends in Spain. It’s chief flavor characteristics are blueberry and other berries, grassy or herbal qualities, hints of earth and/or leather. Leather may sound a little odd, but that’s what the books say. Your mileage may vary. Because the grape has a thick skin, it can have some powerful tannins, which is why it’s often blended with grapes with less color and/or tannins.
The Twisted Oak Tempranillo has a deep ruby color and a nose full of the characteristic blueberries and cherries. But don’t let that fool you. This is no fruit bomb. Winemaker Scott Klann used some French oak (which you can taste) but not enough to drown out the fruit. There are some nice acids in the center of the palate which make for a clean, easy drinking mouthfeel.
This is a great food wine – an Oddball Grape hallmark – and should go well with grilled meats like tri-tip, or grilled chicken or anything Spanish-style. Mike was amazed at how well it worked with some seared scallops in a caper sauce. You might also try it with a cioppino or even a good surf and turf. We do not recommend it with rubber chicken.
Drat the folks at Sunset Magazine. According to Twisted Oak Winery Owner Jeff Stai, the magazine’s article on the winery had the money quote: “If Monty Python started a winery, this would be it.”
Pirates, rubber chickens, and symbols for language not suitable for sensitive ears. It’s all part of the Twisted zeitgeist and fun at Stai’s winery in Vallecito, California. It’s not a winery for the uber serious or for people who do the “nice” thing. But if you don’t mind the silliness, you can get some lovely, food-friendly wines. And if you do like the silliness, you can have a grand old time there.
Now, keep in mind, Anne has known Jeff for years via the FoodWine email list – an electronic world-wide kitchen table. But we first met Jeff – or El Jefe, as he is known – last year when we decided to check out the joint after hearing good things from fellow FoodWinos Tina Vierra and Penny Gadd-Coster. Mike liked the wine so much he immediately joined the Twisted Few wine club, and then earlier this year won the Write the Label contest for this year’s bottling of Ruben, the white wine blend that’s named after Ruben the Rubber Chicken mascot. So, we are getting a case of it as our prize, but that was before we decided to start the blog.
Schtick aside, it’s all about the wines, first. The production is relatively small (although we keep having so durned much fun there, we keep forgetting to ask), and the focus is on locally grown, Calaveras County grapes. Scott Klann (aka El Fermento) has the responsibility of turning it all into wine, using such methods as co-fermenting some viognier with their syrah. Sadly, the result of this traditional technique from the Rhone won’t be available until next year.
You can check back with us on Wednesday for the first of Mike’s tasting notes. In the meantime, you can find out more about the winery on their website, TwistedOak.com, the blog, El Bloggo Torcido. There is a Twisted Oak page on Facebook and you can follow Jeff on Twitter.
Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland
Odd Ball Grape