Twisted Wines

Nancy and I were up cross country skiing in Bear Valley this weekend. We go up several times each winter. Our drive up Highway 4 takes us by several wineries in the Angels Camp and Murphys area. We always pass some wineries along the way but have never stopped to try their wines. However, we have been noticing more and more wineries each year and were getting curious about what they had to offer. We did know about a couple of the wineries from previous events we had been at but were never impressed by their wines. But we felt we should try some more before we pass judgement on the region as a whole so we have decided that this spring we will take a tasting trip to Calaveras County. We decided to do some reconnaissance as we drove up the hill to go skiing and then to drive through the little town of Murphys on the way home.

As we drove up beyond Murphys we counted 6 wineries on Highway 4. After our day (half-day really) of skiing, we came back through Murphys. This little town has grown considerably in the past few years. We rarely detour through Murphys on our way home from skiing as we’re usually pretty tired, so we hadn’t been into town in years. There are many new restaurants and shops in addition to several tasting rooms. Murphys was pretty crowded but we found a parking place right in front of one of the tasting rooms. We took this as a sign that it was meant for us to stop and taste their wines. Our plan was to taste wine at just the one winery and pick-up a brochure on area wineries so we could plan future trips. So, we wandered into the Twisted Oak Winery tasting room. We had passed their winery on our way up the hill that morning.

Calaveras county has at least 25 to 30 wineries. Many more than I had thought there were. Most of them have tasting rooms in Murphys. So, rather than drive around to the various wineries, going to Murphys is a great way to taste wines from a large number of wineries. In addition Murphys has many restaurants and stores so you really can make an entire day or weekend trip without getting bored. Murphys is just above Angels Camp which is another cute little town to visit. Mark Twain spent a lot of time in this area and of course there is the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee.

Anyway, we went into the tasting room and were greeted by the women pouring wines. It was quite crowded initially and we had to squeeze in at the bar. They were pouring one white and 8 reds that day. Since we had been skiing I really didn’t want to have a lot of wine so Nancy and I both tried the white and then we each tried 4 of the reds.

Twisted Oak Winery focuses primarily on Spanish varietals and blends of those varietals. Some of the varietals we are not real familiar with while others we know fairly well. All of their grapes are grown in Calaveras County, either by the winery or other growers. It’s nice to taste wines made from grapes grown locally. As we taste more Calaveras County wines, we hope to discover any flavors characteristic of the area.

I understand the winemaker for Twisted Oaks also makes wine for a couple of other wineries in the area. When we do our next wine tasting in the area, we will stop at Twisted Oak first and use them as our tasting reference. Then, we’ll visit the other wineries that use the same winemaker to see if his style carries over to other varietals. In addition, we will pick a couple of more wineries at random. We don’t like to learn too much about a winery before we taste their wines so we can remain objective about the wines.

As varietals often taste or develop differently in the different areas in which they are grown (terroir) I don’t think we can draw any conclusions about these wines until we taste a lot more of the wines from this area. So, to be fair I will just give a brief overview of each wine. Our tasting notes will be a little abbreviated.

One thing we really noted is none of these wines were over extracted or over oaked. With Murphys being at 2000 feet and Twisted Oak winery a little higher, they are a little cooler than we are in the Central Valley. I think just that little cooler temperature has really helped keep the grapes from getting over ripe and jammy like many Lodi wines. What stood out about all of the wines was their color. While there were distinct differences, overall the color density was fairly light. No inky dark ones like some Syrah’s from other areas. Also, all had relatively light tannins. Even the tannins in the Pettite Syrah tannins were pretty light.

We started with their 2008 Sierra Foothills Ruben’s Blend. This is a blend of Roussane, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Note: Grenache Blanc is related to Grenache but is a distinct varietal. This sound like a Rhone blend but all three grapes are also grown in Spain. The nose was floral and rubber tire, odd but nice and interesting. There was great acidity with floral and spice notes in the flavor. I thought this was a very nice wine.

2006 Calaveras County *%#&@!– I know I said Spanish wines were the focus earlier but this was a Rhone style blend of 50% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache and 53% Unmentionables. I know that adds up to 153% but thats how they describe it–they’re twisted, remember! This had a light nose, light tannins, pleasant light fruit in the flavor and a moderate finish.

2006 Calaveras County Grenache – Distinctively Grenache in the nose of berries and strawberries with a light color. Flavors tasted of smoke, bright fruit with minimal tannins and good acid.

2006 Calaveras County Tempranillo – Thios had a smokey, almost cool weather Syrah like nose. A very light body with nice fruit and good acid. This is 86% Tempranillo and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. I need to do some research on this one as they claim it is a favorite of top wine bloggers around the world.

2007 Calaveras County The Spaniard – A blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha (Grenache).The color was light ruby with a minimal nose scented like a grenache. Flavors tasted of dark fruit and spice. Tannins were light and there was good acid.

2007 Calaveras County Parcel 17 – Using the Spanish names this wine is blend of Monastrell (Mourvedre), Mazuelo (Carignane), and Graciano. There was a very interesting light cherry nose that carried over into the flavor. This will be interesting to re-taste on the next trip.

2007 Calaveras County Murgatroyd – This was an exception, as the color was a dark ruby. Smoke and rubber tire were evident on the nose. Flavors tasted of riper, dark fruit and smoke with moderate tannins and good acid.

2006 Tanner Vineyard Syrah – I definitely will need to re-taste this wine. I really did not care for it. It had a nice smokey nose but I picked up something in the finish I didn’t like. Sort of cough medicine like.

2007 Calaveras County Petite Syrah – The color on this wine was a darker ruby than the others.The nose was stinky initially, but blew off to dark fruit. Flavors of spice and cedar accompanied dark ripe fruit and big tannins with significant acid. This was the ripest tasting wine of the group.

Twisted Oaks Winery has some interesting blends and very fun names. Some of their wines I would like to have tried were sold out, such as their 2007 Calaveras County River of Skulls. This is a Monastrell (Mourvedre) with a little Syrah added and was rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast.

There is definitely enough of interest here to bring us back to do several more tastings. We may do tastings in several trips, as we generally prefer to taste a maximum of 4-5 wineries per trip. There is a lot to do in this little town. As a matter of fact, we had to stop for ice cream before we left town. We got our cones and sat in front of another tasting room, enjoyed our ice cream and watched the people go by. We had a great day!


  1. This spring we will do a wine tasting trip up highway 4 and stop by the winery first. We have neglected this area in the past because of poor tasting experiences with a couple of wineries a long time ago. Now it appears there are some pretty nice wines in the area and we need to put aside our biases and really look at what is available. We hope to meet you when we do visit.

  2. hi Peter and Nancy – Thanks for stopping by Twisted Oak, I’m glad you enjoyed your visit and the wine. We’ve noticed that what many people like to do is visit some of the wineries outside of Murphys first, then move to town later in the day when they can continue wine tasting by walking Main Street. There are several nice restaurants and places to stay on Main Street as well. If there is anything I can help you with please do not hesitate to ask. – Jeff Stai, owner.