Wine people often talk about their epiphany wine, the one wine that really got them into wine and made them realize how elevating wine can be — the wine that started an obsession or at least began a lifelong passion. I’ve always had trouble with this question since there are so many wines that made me realize how much I love wine and how much I want it to be a part of my life. I’ve had epiphany white wines, epiphany red wines, and even epiphany $10 wines. For me, context is everything and therefore it’s hard to pick one wine that started it all.
That being said, as evidenced by this blog, I have developed perhaps an unhealthy (at least on my teacher’s salary) obsession with New World cool-climate Syrahs. And, if I had to name one wine that started that obsession, then it would be the Spicerack “Punchdown” Syrah. It was the wine that I bought by chance a few years back and was immediately blown away by how refined and well made the wine was. It was a wine that delivered a perfect balance between acidity and fruit. It was a wine that had the savory elements that I had begun to look for at that time but all couched in delicious pure fruit. And, possibly most importantly, it was a wine that delivered all of that deliciousness for only about $20. I wish I could remember what vintage it was but I think it was a 2006.
The Spicerack was one of the first Californian wines that I’d had that, because of its tannins and acidity, seemed age-able to me. This was the wine that even momentarily got me excited about attempting to convince a friend of mine who had just inherited a large chunk of money to buy up a bunch of Sonoma Coast Syrah and store it in order to re-sell later when the price went up. Full disclosure: I had just read a Jon Bonné article in The Chronicle that convinced me that cool-climate Syrah would be the next big thing. Luckily, a friend who knew a lot more about wine than I did at that time told me that the market for collectable cult wine in California was effectively losing its momentum, and even if it was possible to buy now to make money later, it certainly wasn’t going to happen by buying Syrah. Which, of course, is exactly how things played out.
I bought a few bottles of the Spicerack and occasionally kept my eye out for subsequent vintages at K and L but was never able to find it and at that time I was a little too lazy and poor to actually join a mailing list and pay the extra shipping costs.
So it was such a pleasure and a bit of a surprise to see the Spicerack turn up recently at one of my local markets. I’m not exactly sure why this vintage showed up again, but I’m guessing it had something to do with how much Syrah they made for this particular vintage. Like many California wineries, Pey-Marin is interested in selling most of their wine via its mailing list and avoiding retailers as much as it can. It’s possible that they made more wine in 2010 than it had in previous vintages, or maybe it just didn’t sell to the mailing list as they anticipated. Whatever the reason, a bunch of the Spicerack hit the market at roughly the same time. There it was again at K and L, and there it was again at my local upscale Draeger’s market and even on WinesTilSoldOut.com.
The Spicerack Syrah is a delicious wine, its got all of those delicious cool-climate flavors and aromas that I love so much. There’s a tiny bit more oak than I’m used to and also a dark chocolate aroma which is usually a sign that the wine is a warmer climate style but all of that is wrapped up in white pepper, plum, black olive, and gravel. It’s also crunchy, and I know that’s not the world’s best adjective but drinking this wine really feels like you’re crunching into an apple or better yet, a pomegranate. In fact, that’s exactly what this wine tastes like to me on the mid-palate — a delicious pomegranate. The finish also has a nice tannic punch and a very dry feeling.
As the wine opens up it develops a little more richness, and the tannins round out and the mid-palate gains some structure. All in all, this is still a very impressive wine. It’s reminiscent of the previous vintage I had but not having taken any tasting notes on the 2006 prevents me from making any precise comparisons.
The Spicerack “Punchdown” is made with no stem inclusion and the wine goes through many punchdowns (yes, that’s how it got its name). I’ll get further in to Syrah’s many wine-making permutations in another post. For now, I’ll say that the stem-inclusion question with cool-climate Syrah is a controversial one. Some would say that leaving the stems out makes the wine less interesting. I can vouch that the Spicerack and the Peay are interesting wines, and they are de-stemmed before they go through fermentation.
The grapes for this wine come from well-known cool-climate Syrah sites (please check out this map I’ve made), Rodger’s Creek, Wildcat Mountain, and Shanel vineyards). There’s also a bit of Grenache in this wine, which the winemakers believe bring the wine together.
It was a pleasure to revisit the Spicerack “Punchdown” and I’ll definitely be getting the subsequent vintages. This time, I’ll be first in line.