The 2014 Rhone Rangers Bay Area Tasting: Spotlight on Syrah

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Umm, yes, I’d like to taste some wine with this view.

The annual Bay Area Rhone Rangers tasting is a great way for me to get a sense of the state of Syrah in California. Although it’s usually missing some of my favorite Syrah producers like Peay, Arnot-Roberts, and Failla it still has a growing cadre of cool-climate Syrah aficionados that make it a great place to check in on Syrah. This year’s tasting was my favorite so far. The location at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was beautiful and the wineries were spread out well to allow for a lot of elbow room and a lot of face-to-face contact with winemakers. The crowd wasn’t too big (great for those of us there, but maybe not for the wineries) and although there were a few noticeably inebriated people there seemed to be less general drunkenness than in previous years.

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The beautiful Craneway Pavilion in the Richmond Marina

It’s nice to have a plan when going into big events like this and for me the plan was to taste a lot of Syrah. I checked in with the handful of producers that are doing Syrah in the style I appreciate but was also keen to find some new producers doing a cooler-climate style.

Here’s a list and brief description of wines that I tasted at this year’s Rhone Rangers that most represent the lower alcohol, cooler climate style that I love some much. The wines below are organized by the order in which I tasted them.
Kieran Robinson Wines

I’ve written about this wine before but Kieran Robinson’s 2010 Bennett Valley Vivio Syrah is a great example of elegant Syrah (link). The wine has mid-palate lift and some great olive and red fruit aromas. The 2009 was a bigger wine from the same vineyard with more of a meaty chocolate profile. The ’11 just got bottled and will come in at about 13.3% ABV and the 2012 at 14.3% ABV. Kieran says that this type of vintage variation is common in Bennett Valley; you pick it when it’s ripe.
Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge in an old Syrah house that wasn’t on my radar until last year’s Rhone Rangers event. Bill Easton makes spectacular Syrahs from special spots in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. His lower end wines tend to see less oak and are made for easier drinking with an emphasis on fruit and lower tannins. His higher end Syrahs are more tannic and see a lot more new oak and are meant to age.

The 2010 Les Cotes de l’Quest was actually my favorite from the tasting because of that judicious use of oak and had a bright and pure fruit profile.

The 2008 DTR Ranch is their estate wine and sees a little more new oak. The oak was mostly in check and the Syrah flavors came through nicely.

The 2008 Sentinel Oak was a much “bigger” wine with more tannins on the finish and more new oak. It’s still got great acidity though and I’m sure this is the kind of Syrah that could age for a long time (and already has) but for me I just would have liked to see the oak dialed back a tad.

The 2008 Ascent is that vintage’s example of their flagship wine. This wine spends 24 months in new oak. It had more of a blue fruit profile. I think this is a good wine for this style but again I think the new oak could be dialed back.

Although there’s no question in my mind that these are well-made Syrahs, my question is why not let the the pure fruit aromas come through more on the higher end wines keeping the new oak in check?
Two Shepherds

I love checking in on William’s wines and this was one of the few wineries where I tasted through all the wines. The whites were tasting beautifully and William’s curent release of reds seemed even more cohesive at this juncture then the last time I tasted them.

William does have a yet-to-be-released 2012 Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah that he let me taste off to the side. I really like this Syrah (especially after the Terre Rouge wines) because it only sees neutral oak so it’s a great example of how a completely unadulterated Syrah picked at low alcohol levels can bring forth the true character of the varietal. This wine is young and had just been opened so it was full of mouth-filling acidity but also really delicious fresh fruit character. It’s an elegant Syrah that sets itself apart because of its core of acidity. I can’t wait to taste it in about 6 months to see how it continues to evolve in bottle.
Fields Family Wines

Going from William’s Syrah with it’s bracing acidity to Ryan Sherman’s easy-drinking Lodi Syrah was a study in contrast. I won’t go on too much about them here because I’ve only recently done a blog post on them but I do want to say again I am struck by how Ryan achieves fresh fruit character in his wines in Lodi. Yes they are riper styles of Syrah but these are not big vanilla and blue fruit Syrahs. His judicious use of oak, well-timed picking decisions and the cooler site along the Mokelumne River Valley allow the wines to maintain a true Syrah character.

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The affable Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Winery

Donelan Wines

I hadn’t checked in with Donelan since Tyler Thomas had moved on (link) and it was nice to meet new winemaker Joe Nielsen. Most of the Donelan wines aren’t exactly cool-climate but I was struck by their judicious use of new oak and a nice core of acidity that carried through all the Syrahs.

The 2011 Cuvee Christine is Donelan’s blend from different vineyards and is meant to illustrate the potential for Syrah in Sonoma County. It’s a nice fresh style of Syrah. Not too complex and intensely food friendly.

The 2011 Walker Hill, which I’d had before, was also well done with nice fresh fruit elements and surprising acidity.

The 2011 Richards (which was being poured at small samples off to the side) also showed enjoyable Syrah savory aromas and freshness even after spending 30 months in barrel.
Clos Saron

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron. He’s the type of person I think I could sit and talk to for hours and someday I hope to get a chance to do just that at his winery in the Sierra Foothills. If you want to learn a lot more about the Clos Saron project then you’ve got to check out this excellent podcast with Levi Dalton.

All of Gideon’s Syrahs were great but I did get a common thread in the aroma profile that was both perplexing and alluring. The closest I can come to describing it is that it was almost like the aroma of a root beer candy, maybe mixed with a tootsie roll. I asked Gideon if he got any common thread of aroma through all the Syrah and although he didn’t say yes he did say that it was possible.  Gideon mentioned that it could be the native yeast from the winery and then he laughed and told me that possibly it was just his own stinky feet. (Gideon makes the wine in an old world style and still foot stomps the grapes.)  Regardless of how that interesting aroma got in there it’s clear it’s become part of the “terrior” of the Syrah.

The 2011 Stone Soup Syrah and 2009 Heart of Stone both had great cool-climate profile with savory aromas and a nice acidic core. The 2005 Heat of Stone was a bit more extracted and a riper style which Gideon attributed to an over exuberance on his part at this time of his winemaking career to extract big fruit and flavor from the grapes. He now works the grapes less (less punchdowns, less maceration) to make his wines more elegant and less “new world” in profile.
MacLaren Wine Company

I also checked in with Steve Law to get a chance to taste one of my favorite Syrahs, the 2010 Judge Family Bennett Valley Syrah. I think Steve did a great job with this wine and I’m always impressed with it’s freshness and aromas of salted plum and olive. It’s always a treat to taste.
Qupé Winery

Now these were the wines of the tasting for me.

As I mentioned before, this year’s event was less overwhelming than the previous years and I was thrilled to see that there was some space at the Qupe table for me to actually talk with Bob Lindquist and fawn over his Syrahs. I’d recently had a corked Qupe and one that was hopelessly infected with Brettanomyces so I was thrilled to get a chance to wash away those bad experiences with what I was hoping was some great Syrah.

I started off with the 2011 Bien Nacido Vineyard and boy was it tasting good. Elegant, floral, peppery and bright with a well-structured mid palate this was a delicious example of a classic site for Syrah.

The next wine was an iteration of Qupe’s famed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The 2011 Sawyer Lindquist “Sonnies” is an homage to Bob Lindquist’s mother and is a selection of the best blocks from the vineyard and the best barrels from those blocks. This wine was tasting spectacular. It had that perfect combination of cool-climate characteristics mixed with rich and delicious mid-palate and an elegant finish.

The 2011 X Block Bien Nacido was also floral and elegant and tasting very much in balance at this moment.

It was a happy moment for me to taste these wines and get to talk with Bob Lindquist to extoll the virtues of cool climate Syrah. At one point Steve Law came over from MacLaren and the three of us geeked out on French Syrah and how food-friendly it is.

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Two generations of cool-climate Syrah lovers meet for the first time: Steve Law and Bob Lindquist

Lagier Meredith Vineyard

I love to check in with Stephen and Carole’s deliciously graceful Napa Syrah. This is a full wine but it’s light on it’s feet at the same time. The 2011 had a classic cool-climate Syrah black olive disposition with a full mid-palate. Again, this is a Syrah that shows that judicious use of oak and smart picking decisions can create an elegant Syrah in an area known for bigger wines.

Skylark Wine Company

I finished the day checking in with a relatively newer winery because I noticed that they had a Rodger’s Creek Syrah which is a cool-climate site near the Petaluma Gap and Carneros. The 2009 Rodgers Creek was a beautiful Syrah, peppery and bright with beautiful elegance. Another winery to get to know more and a style that I hope they stick with.
All in all, I’d say that there are more wineries attempting to make Syrah in a more floral, peppery, savory style; less blocky and big and overly brawny. Few wineries have gone all in on that style and some of my favorite Syrahs from the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011 have climbed up in ripeness and alcohol level for 2012 and 2013 when the vintages were warmer so it’s hard to say if there’s really a stylistic shift or not. I’m heartened by many of my talks with winemakers who agree with me that Syrah doesn’t need to be jammy and oaky but then they admit that in order to please the general consumer they generally offer Syrahs that are bigger and riper to round out their portfolios. And maybe this is indeed the future of Syrah, that we just have to get comfortable with the fact that it comes in different styles and that consumers appreciate both styles.

As long as the cooler-climate styles stick around then I’m comfortable with that.

 

 

 

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Tasting older vintages of California Syrah with Fred Swan

A couple of weekends ago I tasted some older Syrah with Fred Swan from NorCal wine blog. Fred and I have been Facebook friends for a while now but we had only met in person once. Last time we met at a Rhone Rangers tasting in Oakland we talked about our shared love for Syrah and how we should get together for a Syrah tasting. I had two bottles of Copain Syrah from the early oughts and we decided to do a tasting of Syrah from the early part of the last decade.

I showed up to Fred’s house with my two bottles of Copain and was happily surprised to see about 15 bottles of Syrah, all from the early 2000’s. Apparently Fred has a pretty big personal cellar and lucky me, he was willing to share.

The wines fred swan

The flights getting ready for take off

The most amazing thing about opportunities like these is that you get to taste wines that you never would have bought. Even though many of the wines were not my style I see them as part of an education and this was an enlightening day that confirmed my allegiance to cool climate Syrah.

We started the tasting with a flight of wines that included the two Copains that I’d brought. These wines were the most cool climate of the bunch, the Copains were from Eaglepoint Ranch and the Brokenleg Vineyard in Anderson Valley. I was especially interested in these wines not only because of their cool climate sites but also because of the change in style that Copain has gone through over the years. I was interested to see how they held up over the years as the style has changed. Based on what I had read and the alcohol level of these two wines, I was expecting them to be pretty big and rich but that wasn’t the case.

tasting set up

Empty glasses await

The 2002 Copain Broken Leg was a high- toned wine with savory aromas of olive, blood, and iron. There was also a rather interesting aroma of what I could only describe as insect or maybe insect spray, not as bad as you would think. Classicly cool-climate with a meaty mid-palate and a pretty big, tannic finish. Even after twelve years, this was a dry wine. To me, not a wine that was too big or lacking in any acidity. A beautifully made wine that’s in a good place.

The 2002 Eaglepoint Ranch was also a classically cool-climate wine. Gorgeous nose of dust and sweet plum, and aromas of meat and gravel with some red fruit. Also super dry, these are wines that I suspected would taste better the longer they were open, and Fred confirmed that was true.

The 2003 Nickel and Nickel Darien vineyard was in the same flight because of it’s slightly more northern and coastal bent. To me, the wine was a warmer style, more vanilla notes and blue fruit, although it also had a nice dry finish. I wouldn’t say it was over-oaked but you could tell the oak was a bigger influence. Surprising that the Eaglepoint and the Darien were the same alcohol level because they were very different wines making me think that oak usage and winemaking practice has just as much to do with how the wine will taste as anything else.

The next flight were wines from the Central Coast the first of which was the Qupe 2001 Central Coast Syrah. This was a fun wine to taste for me because it was a wine that I drank a lot of during the time of it’s release. I don’t remember exactly what it tasted like then, but I do remember it was a Syrah that always had a warm climate bent but with some good savory aromas also. The wine on first opening had an unbelievable aroma of barnyard. Nothing less than a horse’s ass in this case. The horse manure smell was slightly integrated and truth be told the wine was not all that bad. It has held up well over the years, especially for a wine that probably sold for under $15 upon release.

The 2001 Qupe Purisima Canyon smelled bretty, yet turned out to be corked. Unfortunate. I was looking forward to tasting this wine, especially after so many years of aging.

The next two wines were wines from Adam Tolmach at Ojai. These were benchmark Syrahs for years and years (and still are) and I was excited to see how they had aged. Like Guthrie at Copain, Tolmach went through a change in philosophy. He now picks his wine at lower levels of alcohol and with higher levels of acidity.

The 2002 Ojai Thompson had a great nose of blackberries and some meaty aromas and after those enticing aromas, I was excited to taste it. Unfortunately, the wine sort of fell apart on the mid palate. It just seemed flat and empty and just had very little acidity to give it balance. So, in my opinion, Adam made a great choice in picking wines at higher levels of acidity. Of course Fred made a great point in that few people age their wines 12 years these days. But still, to me, the wine just fell flat and it was hard to imagine that it would have had enough acidity in its inception.

The 2002 Ojai White Hawk was much the same. The wine had a pretty meaty nose but it just really fell apart on the mid-plate and had a lack of structure.

The 2002 Ojai Roll Ranch at 15% alcohol was really the biggest of the bunch. This wine to me was verging on a port-style wine with stewy fruit flavors that made me think of a liqueur. Again the line really fell flat on the mid palate and for me was eye-wateringly alcoholic.

The strange thing is that the first two wines in the flight had an alcohol level of 14.5% for the Thompson and 14% for the White Hawk. Not exactly over-the-top by any means, also right on level with the Copains. It’s a strange comparison that doesn’t quite fit in to the nice little box that I was hoping it would but, all in al,l I would say that as far as the wines’ aging potential I think Tolmach made the right decision to embrace more acidity in his wines to give them more structure in the mid-palate.

The next flight were Carneros wines from 2003 and 2004, these are also pretty big wines, the most instructive being the Nickel and Nickel Dyer vineyard Syrah. I liked this wine the best in comparison with the Nickel and Nickel Hudson vineyard and the Cline Los Carneros which I felt to be too big and blowsy. Yet, out of the other six people in the tasting I was the only one to like the wine, the others felt it was too sour and astringent. In my defense, I think I was just craving something with more structure on the mid palate after the accompanying wines fell flat.

For out last flight we moved into a realm of Syrah that for the most part I try to stay away from. These were some of the big bruisers of the Paso and the Central Coast. They weren’t actually as bad as I thought they would be but certainly not wines I would seek out.

The first wine was the 2003 Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah at 14.9% alcohol. To me it was not necessarily a bad wine but just too big and evoked stewed, cooked fruit rather than fresh fruit that I look for. For many at the tasting, this wine had a delicious factor that they liked, for me, it was just too one note and overly rich.

The 2003 Justin Paso Robles Syrah at 15% alcohol was a jammy wine that again seemed too big to me but not a wine that I thought was necessarily poorly made.

The last wine of the tasting was the 2003 Wente Nth degree Syrah from the San Francisco Bay AVA. If you like wines that taste like dessert, with the pastry and the dessert wine all mixed together then this is the wine for you. I had this pegged as the wine with the most alcohol at the tasting but it turned out to only be 13.5%. Surprising because it tasted like raisin liqueur and apple pie to me.

So what can be said in terms of generalizations from the tasting? First of all, I think that acidity really does play into how wines age if you believe they should have structure and freshness but alcohol simply cannot be the only indicator as to how a wine can age. The Copains with their 14% alcohol were way more structured and fresh tasting than the Ojais with the same alcohol level. Site differentiations that produce unique ph levels to balance out the alcohol may play into how the finished wine will bear out. But then, based on the subsequent flights I think there might be a point where no matter how much acidity the wine might have, if the alcohol level is too high it simply won’t have much backbone after a few years of age. Put more simply, wines from cooler climates or soils with high ph levels might have higher acidity levels that balance out the alcohol whereas wines with from warmer climates simply turn flabby at the same level of alcohol.

The larger point that Fred brought up as to whether or not anybody really cares about twelve year old Syrah is a pretty interesting one and the truth is he’s probably right. Most people drink their wine within a few hours of purchase so the reality is that Fred’s got a point. I still think that wines should be built to age regardless of when they actually will be drunk. That’s probably one of the main challenges for many California winemakers, to make wines that are both attractive to consumers who want to drink wine when they buy it and also can be aged with success. All of this also depends on the winemaker’s ethos also. I know that Wells Guthrie has said that he suffered from an exodus from the mailing list when he changed his philosophy and began picking at higher levels of acidity. (I think it’s since rebounded quite nicely.)

This was an instructive tasting and one I was happy to be a part of. As often happens when tasting and thinking about wine, as many questions were raised as answered. And that’s what keeps us coming back.

Fred and I

Many thanks to Fred and his wife Eva for their hospitality

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Three Vintages of Fields Family Winery Lodi Syrah

As a cool-climate Syrah enthusiast, I don’t often get many Syrahs sent to me from Lodi.  It’s not an area that many would say is known for cool weather but I did have an idea, based on some tastings at Bedrock Winery, that it’s possible to make restrained and elegant wines (in this case Zinfandel) from Lodi, especially from the Mokelumne river area.  So, when Ryan Sherman approached me offering to send samples, I accepted with only a bit of reservation.  I’m glad I did because these wines, if not exactly cool-climate styles of Syrah, are honest examples of the variety.
Fields Family wines

Fields 2010 Syrah 14.4% ABV $22:

On first opening this was quite an austere wine for Lodi, full of black pepper, savory aromas and a very present earthiness, which as you can imagine, got me pretty excited.  The wine did open up over the next hour and a half and started to exhibit some more warm climate characteristics, bitter dark chocolate, strawberry and cherry (but not jammy). Very little oak, great grip on the finish.  Very impressive wine, it has an energy on the mid-plate that I don’t often (ever) get in Lodi Syrah.

Fields 2011 14.2% ABV $22 :

On first opening the 2011 seemed more open and warm-climate character to me.  Still a tad high-toned but more of a slightly jammy style.  The jamminess disappeared rather quickly as the wine opened and it ended up smelling a lot like the previous vintage with that common theme of energy on the mid-palate.  Again there’s a fair amount of black pepper on the nose and that carries over  to the mid-palate mixed with some strawberry and blackberry aromas.  An elegant Syrah because of its lack of new oak.  The finish is nice and drying and makes you hunger for some savory food to accompany it.

Fields Family 2012 ABV 14.5% (not yet released):

The ’12 is an altogether more open Syrah, I wouldn’t call it a fruit bomb but it does have more of a fruit forward nose and palate right now.  This Syrah isn’t even scheduled for release until September of 2014 so it’s a little unfair to judge it at the moment, some more savory elements might develop over time.  Right now, the fruit on the nose isn’t jammy but more like slightly stewed fruit, maybe verging a tad into fruit compote.  It’s a little hot right now but again the alcohol might integrate more as the wine develops in the bottle.  Fields Winery was generous enough to send me a second bottle and I look forward to trying it again in a year or so to see how it’s progressed.  There’s good verve on the mid palate like the other vintages so that’s promising.  It’s a warmer style of Syrah but I like it because it’s honest and has very little oak to mask the fruit.

All of these wines were sampled over a period of three days with and without food.  I’m excited about this winery and the state of the future of Lodi.  The wines all had a similar thread of pure fruit unadulterated by oak and relatively modest alcohol levels.  They are all made from an organically farmed vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA which is the coolest of the Lodi sub-AVAs.

Fields is a small winery with only about 1500 cases production in total. Ryan Sherman and Russ Fields are the brains behind Fields Family.  Ryan makes the wine from the eight acres of vineyards that Russ bought back in 2005.  Ryan had been making wine at home and took on the larger project while also taking classes at UC Davis.  The wine is made with native yeast fermentation, very little new oak, no filtering or fining.  All music to my ears.

There’s more Syrah on the horizon too, according to Ryan, with some projects made from Lodi and small lots in the Sierra Foothills.  All of these projects get me salivating about the future of Syrah in what has mostly been a forgotten region for the grape.  It’s further proof that anything is possible when grapes are in the hands of the right winemaker.

These wines were provided by the producer as samples for review.

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The Bedrock 2012 North Coast Syrah $25 ABV 14.5%

After two tough growing years in California, the relatively perfect growing season and harvest of 2012 may show us how winemakers want to make their wine. Wines like the North Coast Syrah that are blends from different vineyards give us further insight into how winemakers (in this case Morgan Twain-Peterson) envision versions of  given varietals.  Syrah especially, given it’s sort of dichotomous nature (warm/cool), offers further transparency into the preferences of the winemaker.
bedrock north coast 2012

I’m happy to say that Twain-Peterson and I have similar tastes because this is a decidedly cool-climate Syrah.  It’s still a crowd pleaser, a wine with a rich mid-palate and a fair amount of up-front fruit.  It’s not a wine that falls into the “too cool for school” crowd. Although it has some of those tendencies, I wouldn’t say it tends toward austerity.  It’s a wine that even those who like their Syrahs big and juicy will appreciate although it probably won’t hit their palates in the perfect sweet spot.  It’s kind of like a hipster band that garners the respect of the Pitchfork readers yet also appeals to the masses.

The wine: There’s a high toned nose of anise and salty black olive.  Ripe fresh blackberry, no jam here, pretty big tannins on the finish but integrated.  That salty olive carries over from the nose onto the mid-palate and the finish.  This is not a lean wine but rather it’s full and elegant at the same time.  Very little oak is present on this wine.

This is the kind of wine you want to have a lot of for yourself and for guests. Fortunately, this is one of Bedrock’s larger production wines so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

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The Mullineux 2010 Syrah South Africa $30

Mullineaux

I’ve been hearing about Mullineux Syrah, one of the premier makers of Syrah in South Africa, for quite a while. They are minimalistic in their winemaking practices and therefore have a bit of cache with the natural wine-making set. So far (as I continue my worldwide Syrah education) I think that South African Syrahs can be quite delicious, not exactly on par with the complexity of the Northern Rhone Syrahs  but with lots of fresh fruit when made in a style that de-emphasizes the oak.

Nice acid, a bright mid-palate and finish.  Not exactly shockingly complex but just a beautifully textured and elegant Syrah. Strawberry, sweet plum and tobacco on the nose. Really impressive Syrah to have been made in a warmer climate. Very balanced on the finish with not-too much tannin. Very little oak present on the wine.

Definitely a wine to seek out for Syrah heads.

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Chante-Perdrix 2012 Northern Rhone Syrah $15

Chante-Perdrix

The Chante-Perdrix is a nice little Syrah that I found at one of the best wine shops in San Francisco, Arlequin Wines.  I had a hunch this might be a nice example of cool-climate Syrah at a reasonable price.  I was right.  It’s a wine that might be a tad hard to find but it’s a great example of cool-climate Syrah.

I’ve been quite happy with the Syrahs I’ve had from the Collines Rhodaniennes area of the Northern Rhone because they are at a low price point and exhibit lots of classic cool-climate characteristics.

Dark, deep, sour olive, licorice, tar and meat aromas, this Syrah has all that cool-climate aroma complexity that I look for.  There are even aromas of sour candy that carry over to a smooth mid-palate and a big lift of acidity on the finish.  It’s a lower priced wine but that doesn’t make it necessarily an easy-drinking wine you can just knock back.  In fact, it definitely benefits from some time in the glass or in a decanter.

Keep an eye out for Northern Rhone Syrahs from Rhodaniennes as great examples of Northern Rhone Syrah for lower prices.

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Waxwing Wine Cellars 2012 Syrahs

Waxwing Wines, down here on the peninsula, is probably one of the best small wineries you’ve never heard of.  It’s a winery in a unique industrial location but Scott Sisemore is making some amazing wines worth checking out.
Flochinni 2012
The Flocchini Syrah ($32, ABV 13.4%) is from the famed Petaluma Gap region, an area named for a gap in the Sonoma coastal hills that lets in cooling wind. That wind allows the area to grow cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay.  Petaluma Gap wines are generally known for their rich and full mid-palate but also their intense savory aroma profiles.  This wine has all that in spades.

On the nose there’s a ton of minerality.  I know minerality is a controversial term among tasters but if you’re looking for a wine  just begging for that description this is it.  It’s also got a lot of that plum aroma that I look for in cool-climate Syrah. The mid-palate is sweet and full, and right now, because this is a 2012, it’s got a bunch of mouth drying tannins on the finish.  Let’s not be coy, this is a wine that will need some time to mellow.  It’s a little unwieldy and decanting will help.  I asked Scott about the tannins and he said that the vineyard block  he is getting is all Noir clone that has a tendency toward a pretty big tannic finish.  He believes in letting the vineyard be what it’s supposed to be so he hasn’t considered any protocols to help manage that burst of tannins. I respect Scott’s decision because the tannins point to what is great potential for aging.
Waxwing Syrah Lester 2012
The Lester ($32, ABV 13.4%) is all green peppercorn on the nose, I mean green peppercorn in a way that would be impossible to mis-identify. There’s a background of blackberries and another unmistakable aroma, dust.  100% stem inclusion in the wine accounts for a lot of that unexpected aroma profile.  Just like the Flocchini, this wine has a rich and full mid-palate but with less tannin on the finish.

There’s a complexity to the wine that’s pretty intense but also a tad awkward at the moment.  I think it’s a wine that’s going to age really well over the next few years and it will be exciting to see it develop.

Like many wines from the Northern Rhone, both the Flocchini and the Lester are wines that, given some judicious decanting or breathing, are beautifully elegant yet full examples of Syrah. Do yourself a favor and put these down for a while to see how they do in a couple of years.

These wines were provided as samples for purposes of review.

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