Gramercy Cellars 2012 Columbia Valley Syrah

Gramercy Cellars

(Big Syrah bottles make for big scratches from the wine fridge rack.) 

It’s all fresh, sweet fruit on first opening. Some rose petal, soy sauce, graphite there in the background and although not exactly a fruit bomb, this wine has a fruit character that jumps out of the glass and definitely separates it from the savory Syrahs of the Northern Rhone. It’s delicious though, there’s a sense of balance on the palate that makes the wine feel full and light at the same time.

Day two: The wine is still fruity but there’s an interesting meaty character coming through that I really like. It’s a beautiful wine and on day two doesn’t actually taste much different than day one and that’s not a bad thing.

Gramercy Cellars is the brain child of Greg and Pam Harrington who gave up their city life in New York to make wines in Walla Walla, Washington. As you’d imagine, if you’ve ever been to Eastern Washington, that involved quite a bit of culture shock. The move paid off though, as Gramercy Cellars enjoys a reputation as one of the better wineries in Washington state and is renowned for making some of its best Syrah.

The Columbia Valley Syrah is a new blend for Gramercy Cellars. At $40, it’s the least expensive of their Syrahs. It combines four vineyards, Minick, Olsen, SJR, and Stony Vine. It’s all neutral oak aged and comes in at 13.7% abv.

While this wine isn’t totally my style of Syrah, I can see why people fall for it. It has a delicious factor that can’t be denied. And its lack of new oak and judicious alcohol level allows that delectable fresh fruit character to fully express itself.

The Failla Fort Ross-Seaview 2011 Estate Vineyard Syrah

Failla 2011 Syrah

First opening: The wine hits you with a high-toned aroma of fresh plums and gravel, reminiscent of the Northern Rhone and the best of the New World Syrahs I’ve tasted for the blog. Right out of the gate, I can tell this is going to be my kind of Syrah. The palate is full and light at the same time. The mouth-feel is almost textured.

Day two, there’s a touch of the vegetal coming through right now because of the 100% stem inclusion. It’s integrated though and adds pleasant complexity. There’s a real savory side to this Syrah that’s intriguing. That plum is coming through now but with a black olive edge to it, and there’s a floral element also.

This is quite simply one of the best California Syrahs that I have ever had (which, frankly, at its $60 price tag is as it should be).

Failla is the brain child of former Turley wine maker Ehren Jordan who left Turley to start his own winery with his wife Anne-Marie Failla. The winery is Pinot and Chardonnay focussed but those who know Jordan also know that he’s a Syrah expert. He spent his early winemaking apprenticeship in the Northern Rhone and learned to appreciate cool-climate Syrah. Jordan’s become known for making Syrah that’s intensely aromatic with a cool-climate Old World bent but he’s not a cool-climate zealot. He believes Syrah should be full on the mid-palate and has been known to poke fun at cool-climate Syrah makers who make wine at under 12% alcohol. He’s not afraid of his Syrah being broad-shouldered in order to back up all that aromatic intensity.

This wine was made in a traditional Northern Rhone style with 100% whole cluster fermentation. It was crushed by foot, and aged in 30% new oak. It’s a wine that nods more to the Old World than the New, which is consistent with other Failla Syrahs I’ve had.

If you want to taste an elegant New World Syrah that tends toward the Old World, this is a wine to seek out.

So you want to get to know Saint Joseph Syrah?


Gonon Saint Joseph 2011

So you want to get to know Saint Joseph, well here’s a good place to start.

There was a whisper among some of the Syrah geeks and winemakers about Gonon. Every once in a while when I mentioned Saint Joseph they would say that this was the textbook example, that this was the wine that most represented the appellation. They espoused its classic lightness on the palate and its savory minerality and I knew it was a wine I had to try.

The wine: Black olive, black pepper, pervasive gravel aromas, hints of something vegetal in the background, high-toned fresh plum. On first opening even with an aerator the wine was super tight. A day on the counter and it was much better but you could imagine it fleshing out even more over time. There’s a lot of acidity here but the tannins aren’t as pronounced as Syrah from other regions of the Northern Rhone. That’s in line with what I’ve come to expect from Saint Joseph and historically what the region has been known for, food-friendly reds that are versatile enough to go with steak, chicken, or even fish.

Gonon is an historic estate that Pierre Gonon gave to his sons Pierre and Jean in 1989. They’ve resisted the temptation of new oak and other modern techniques and focussed their energy on elevating the vineyard while maintaining the classic vinification process in the cellar. The result is that these wines are textbook examples of what St. Joseph has classically been and what it should always be; food-friendly, fresh wines, with a core of pure fruit, and savory aromas.

Twelve California Syrahs for around $25

A recent Levi Dalton interview with Bedrock Winery’s owner and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson inspired me to write about CA Syrah priced at around $25. Morgan said in the interview (a fascinating listen) that he felt that it’s hard to find true CA Syrah with all it’s savory, peppery, and lifted quality at the $25 price point, and that’s keeping Syrah back in CA. People aren’t able to sort of play around in the category of California Syrah without having to fork over $40 or $50. I think that most of what Morgan says is true, it is difficult to find them but they’re out there. I’m going to help you find them. Here’s my list of twelve “around $25” bottles of California Syrah with true Syrah characteristics.

First a disclaimer of sorts: I do a lot of shopping at K and L Wine Merchants here in the Bay Area. Most of these wines are available there. Let it be known though that I am not a paid shill for K and L. We all have our favorite wine stores, I’m lucky enough to have K and L near my home so I can order from there and pick the wine up to avoid shipping cost. It’s as simple as that.

Spicerack Syrah ($19) : This was one of the first CA Syrahs that I found that really piqued my interest in cool-climate Syrah. It has a freshness and crunchiness that I just wasn’t finding in other CA Syrah. Judicious use of oak also helps the fruit shine through.

Andrew Murray Tous Les Jours Santa Ynez Valley ($13): Andrew Murray makes good wine, usually it’s a little on the ripe side but it’s well made. I have to admit this is a pretty obvious choice but I wanted to include it because it usually has some interesting meaty Syrah character that’s difficult to find in other wines at this price point.

Fields Family Estate Syrah ($24) : Ryan Sherman is quickly making a name for himself with his fresh and savory Lodi wines. His Syrah is one of my favorite wines and although it’s not exactly a Northern Rhone it has an earthy, peppery side that you just don’t normally find in Lodi.

Piedrasassi “P.S.” Central Coast Syrah ($19): Piedrasassi makes a less-expensive Syrah that has a lot of true Syrah character and a deliciousness factor that’s hard to beat. It also comes in like the coolest little bottle on the planet.

Terre Rouge Les Cotes de l’Ouest ($18): Bill Easton is known for his age-able old vine Syrahs from various soils and elevations in Amador County. But he also makes a widely available St. Joseph style Syrah meant for daily consumption. It sees less oak and it’s elegant and floral and has a pure, peppery aroma that Syrah should have. And from mostly Lodi fruit!

Bonny Doon Vineyard ‘Le Pousseur’ Syrah ($24)
: It’s the earthy, meaty, side of this wine that makes it such a treat. Randall Graham is a Syrah genius and this least expensive example is a winner.

Tolosa Estate Syrah ($24)
: Now, to be honest, I’ve only had the 2010 and 2011 which were the coolest vintages California had seen for years, so I can’t vouch for the ’12 as being a wine with Syrah personality but the ’10 and ’11 had it in spades.

Copain “Tous Ensemble” Mendocino County Syrah ($20): This Syrah’s always a winner. It has the elegance of Copain’s higher end bottlings but not the price. It has a core of minerality that you generally don’t see at this price point and a fresh fruit character.

Qupe Central Coast Syrah ($18): Like the Andrew Murray wine, I drank a lot of this when I was getting into Syrah. It’s always good, the 2011 was the best vintage I’d had in a while, a restrained and floral version of Syrah. Regardless of the vintage though, this is pure, delicious Syrah.

Anthill Peters Ranch Syrah ($27): Every time I have the Anthill Syrahs I pinch myself that they’re still in the $25 range. These are the best and most authentically Northern Rhone style Syrahs that you can get for this price.

Anthill Campbell Ranch Syrah ($27)
: The Campbell is a tad richer and fuller than the Peters but equally delicious. It has a memorable umami character that makes it a must taste.

Bedrock North Coast Syrah ($29): Well, I had to include Morgan’s own wine because it’s really, really good. It’s a blend from various Syrah vineyards up and down the Coast depending on the vintage but the wine always over delivers for the price. Morgan treats the fruit in a way that gives it a true Syrah character. It’s rich but peppery and with good acidity too.

So there’s my list. Please feel free comment on ones I may have missed and here’s hoping the future brings a commitment from other talented winemakers to true Syrah that doesn’t break the bank. If Syrah in California is to make the comeback that some say it’s making, Morgan’s right, we’ll need more Syrahs that get new wine lovers excited about the savory, meaty side of Syrah, without having to shell out the big bucks.

2011 Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Syrah

quarter acre</

There’s great potential in New Zealand for Syrah with cool-climate character and I’ve had some great examples. I’ve had others that have been treated with too much new oak in the cellar and the results have been less than impressive.  But the honest Syrahs that I’ve had have been transcendent and all for a really good price.

The Quarter Acre has a candied fresh red fruit and plum nose that transfers over to a smooth and full mid-palate.  There’s some savory here in the form of aromas of black olive and tobacco but this is not a northern Rhone style Syrah. What it is is a pure, fresh, new world Syrah with good acidity and honesty.  This is a delicious wine and pulls way more than its $20 weight.

Quarter Acre is the project of New Zealand winemaker Rod MacDonald.  Rod and his team aspire to capture the terroir of Hawke’s Bay with a hands-off winemaking approach and organic vineyard practices.  Rod said in an email, “The brief with the Quarter Acre Wines is that we want personality and funk if we can get it…as long as it tastes good.  We don’t need these wines to be perfect, that’s not us, we just want them to have soul.”

That’s my impression with the Quarter Acre; it’s a wine that has some funk and soul but also it’s just plain delicious to drink.

I don’t always drink Syrah but when I do… Here are the Five Best Syrahs I tasted in 2014

These are wines that I can’t get out of my head, they are all different in style but what unites them is that they’re memorable and well made for the style that they embrace. Here are the top five Syrahs that I drank in 2014.  Follow the links for the tasting notes from the original post.

The 2008 Barruol Cote Rotie: This is a Kermit Lynch selection from Louis Barruol’s St. Cosme label that really knocked my socks off, beautifully floral and elegant, just as a Cote Rotie should be. A great way to start off 2014 and a reminder to figure out a way to drink more Cote Rotie.

The 2009 Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-block: Yes, there is something special about Bien Nacido, especially when the grapes are picked at modest ripeness and the wines are vinified in a way that lets the fruit shine. This is one of those wines. Elegance, intensity and fascinating floral aromas mixed with a black olive and pepper character.

The 2001 Copain Eaglepoint Syrah: This wine was a fun find for me. I liked Eaglepoint Syrah from an early stage in my Syrah-drinking career and I’ve wondered here before why there aren’t more wines made from Eaglepoint Syrah. This wine confirmed my belief that Syrah from Eaglepoint Vineyard can be delicious but I’ve yet to learn the full story behind its lack of visibility in today’s marketplace.

The 2012 Nellessen Wind Gap: If you want to experience a California Syrah that has its roots in France, this is a great one to try. The Nellessen is all black olive and pepper, bright plum and intense acidity. It’s a dead ringer for a Northern Rhone savory Syrah.

The 2010 Piedrasassi Rim Rock Syrah: This Syrah tops my list. It’s a beauty, meaty, rich, savory with lots of structure that makes it built for the cellar. It’s fun to drink now though, especially after a decant or some time open when the wine rounds out and really sings.

There’s one more wine from 2014 that I would be remiss to not mention. I had the pleasure of meeting up with some fellow Syrah geeks and one of the dinner participants brought a 2000 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot. It was one of the best Syrahs I’ve ever had. I didn’t take notes but simply enjoyed the wine with the fabulous food at the Palace Restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. It matched well with everything, even a delicate prawn dish. I’m not including it in my top five because I didn’t record it here on the blog but it should be in the list and it was a privilege to try.

My Syrah resolutions for 2015 are to drink more Northern Rhone Syrah, I’m still a novice when it comes to this region and I probably will be until I actually get a chance to visit the region but in the meantime I’ll keep drinking, learning, and writing it all down on this little blog.  Thanks so much for reading.

Two Impressive 2012 Syrah Releases from Anthill Farms

Anthill Farms 2012 Syrah
The 2012 Campbell Ranch Syrah:  You’ve heard of umami in wine, well, the 2012  is a great example of what that means.  This wine has a salty richness on the palate that reminds me of that umami flavor in  meaty ramen and/or chicken noodle soup.  Lots of savory aromas too, along with a beefy/tomato nose. This is not a shy Syrah, it has elegance but it’s a bit more of a tannic bruiser than Anthill’s Peters Vineyard Syrah.  With too much oak and picked at higher brix I probably wouldn’t be such a fan of this wine but luckily all neutral oak and the right amount of acidity makes it just about perfect for me. Those interesting aromas give this Syrah just the the right kind of weirdness to keep me happy.  I can’t wait to see where this ends up in five or ten years and I hope I can keep my hands off it until then.
The 2012 Peters is a more floral and mineral-driven Syrah, with almost a more Pinot-like sensibility. There are aromas of salted plum too. It’s light and bright  on the palate.  In its current stage of development it’s maybe not as complex as the Campbell’s but it has a gorgeous lightness to it. It’s a beautiful example of cool-climate Syrah, and it’s a wine that could age for a while I’m sure.  This is a foggy, cool vineyard on the outskirts of Sebastopol where the Anthill crew asked the grower to plant a little Syrah alongside the Pinot.  They’re the only ones who get the fruit and they really know what to do with it.
I let this wine sit out on the counter for a day and it really became more expressive and developed some of that umami character.  It still has salted plum aroma and a pervasive minerality but the mid-palate is less angular.  Just like the Campbell, it’s another Syrah to lay down for a few years to see what comes of it.
Anthill is the brainchild of Webster Marquez, David Low and Anthony Filiberti who all met while working at Willems Selyem.  They started the winery on a shoestring with the goal of celebrating small lot vineyards in California.  They don’t set out to make wines that speak of the old world but they do appreciate cooler sites for Syrah that provide wines with structure and elegance.
Me talking wine with Anthill’s jack of all trades, Tyson Freeman
My wife and I visited their open house/pick up party recently to pick up the Syrah and try some of their Pinots (which are more coveted than their Syrah) and it could not have been a more laid back setting.  I have an old friend who helps out at Anthill so I got to taste some of the ‘13s in barrel and what was most remarkable was the consistency between the vintages.  Anthill uses a hands-off approach (very little new oak, no filtering or fining) that they believe lets the vineyard site speak for itself. These wines are a great reflection of that approach.