Three Stunning 2013 Oregon Syrahs from Twill Winery

Steelhead Run twill

2013 Steelhead Run Vineyard 94 pts. $40,  25 cases made

Smells of whole cluster in a good way on first opening. Takes a bit for the fruit to develop but when it does it’s stellar. Fresh aromas of milk chocolate and plum mixed with salty and meaty notes. It’s just the type of Syrah I like. Not over-oaked, not over manipulated, a little whole cluster, and a whole lot of balanced complexity. The fruit here is from the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon next to the Applegate River and is also sourced by Herb Quady for his exceptional Quady North Syrahs.

Deux Vert Vineyard

2013 Deux Vert Vineyard Syrah 91 pts. Not-for-release. Two cases made.

Licorice and cola with a tiny bit of heat on the nose, this one smells more seductive. It’s savory, sweet, and meaty at the same time. I don’t smell whole cluster here. The mid-palate is a little short and the tannins more pronounced but it’s still a delicious Syrah that will delight those that love a meaty and brawny style of Syrah. Deux Vert is a Willamette Valley vineyard in the Yamhill Carlton AVA and the coolest site that Twill has worked with but unfortunately will probably not get to work with again. Much of this Syrah went into the Oregon blend.  Marcus Goodfellow of Matello and Goodfellow Family Wines also makes a Syrah from this Vineyard.

twill oregon syrah
2013 Syrah Oregon 93 pts. $27, 225 cases made

Minerally nose with a backbone of sweet plum and blackberry. There’s also a bit of umami aromas of mushroom and soy. Slightly fuller mouthfeel than the Steelhead perhaps owing to a tiny bit of new oak in this blend. Not as much whole cluster aroma as the Steelhead. Balanced and energetic on the mid palate with a light finish. Not tannic at all but with good acidity. The Oregon Syrah is a blend of Southern Oregon Syrah from Steelhead Run and the Belmont Vineyard in Bear Creek Valley, and the Willamette Valley Deux Vert Vineyard.

Twill is a new winery run by Chris Dickson who is winemaker and owners Darrell and Molly Roby who planted their own vineyard in the Willamette Valley back in 2000. Chris was the winemaker for their previous project called Ribera Vineyards. Twill is a new project for the three of them and represents an attempt to re-focus and fine-tune their overall vision for the kinds of wines they want to make. Besides Syrah, they also make Pinots and Chardonnays (this is the Willamette Valley after all). The new winery is more focussed on cooler sites and vineyard expression and Oregon fruit (the Ribera winery sourced their Syrah fruit from Washington).

Chris fell in love with Syrah from his time at Landmark Winery in Kenwood, CA and also worked with it in Washington and South Africa’s Swartland. He considers it the variety that speaks to him the most. He feels that it’s a variety with the perfect combination of resilience and transparency. Resilience to produce good wine even in extreme vintage variation but also has the transparency to let that vintage variation shine though.
The Twill team has planted more Syrah at one of their Pinot Noir sites in the Willamette Valley which they hope to get fruit from this coming fall. They’re continuing to keep Syrah at the forefront as they search for new vineyard sources in Oregon.

All the wines are aged almost two years in neutral barrel with the occasional new barrel mixed in over all the lots. The wines are made with ambient yeast and minimal SO2, 100% whole cluster and stay unracked, unfined, and unfiltered. Chris feels that the 22 months in barrel allow the wines to integrate and concentrate flavors and intensity.

Twill is a winery interested in the future of Syrah in Oregon and willing to experiment with cool sites. I’ve always thought that Syrah in cooler sites in Oregon has a chance to be transcendent. This is a project that I’m going to get on Twill’s mailing list for, their wines are made in a way that matches my taste and I’m excited to see how Oregon Syrah remains part of their future.

These wines were provided as samples for purposes of review. 

Jamsheed Harem La Syrah Yarra Valley Victoria $25 92 pts.

Jamsheed Harem

I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid and one of the ones I loved the most was Pinky and the Brain. Pinky (or was it Brain?) had a saying when an alluring mouse of the opposite sex came along, “Hellloooooo Nurse! “ Well, that’s the first thing that came out of my mouth when I tasted this wine. It’s just plain alluring and delicious. It’s one of those wines that before you know it, you’ve drunk more than you anticipated you would.

A little oak on the nose, a little earth, but also a rich and inviting aroma of fruit that’s reminiscent of blackberry pie. Now, normally, that’s not necessarily a Syrah that I’d be totally into but this wine is just so pretty on the palate. It’s got some savory and meaty notes and a little richness but also just a beautiful acidity that makes you want to keep drinking it.

It’s a vision of the future for Syrah in Australia. A touch of that oak and sweetness but good lift on the mid-palate to keep it interesting and savory. What a wine!

Jamsheed’s been around for about a decade and I kept hearing rumors of a cooler climate style Australian Syrah that was worth trying. They make a few single vineyard Syrahs that are higher priced. This one’s a blend of grapes from Pyrenees (80%) and Yarra Valley (20%) areas of Australia. It’s 80% whole cluster and spends time in big puncheons old and new.

2012 La Rosine M&S Ogier D’Ampuis $30 12.5% ABV 91 pts.


Let’s talk about crunchiness in wine. Some wines, especially Syrah grown in cool climates, have a quality that reminds me of biting into a piece of fresh fruit. The first Syrah that I really liked was like that, it had almost a crunchy pomegranate quality. This wine has that. There’s tension and verve, beautiful high-toned aromas of plum, pepper and gravel with an acidic lift on the mid-palate that is almost Pinot-like. The finish is more acid than tannin. It’s an elegant Syrah that has a freshness to it that’s hard to resist.

The Ogier family started making wine after years as growers for Guigal. Michel Ogier made his own bottling of the vineyards and now his son Stephane is the winemaker.

The wine is aged in neutral oak barrels for one year. No stem inclusion, light maceration to minimize over-extraction.

Collines Rhodaniennes is a rather new appellation in the Northern Rhone and for now it’s a great way to get to know wines from the Northern Rhone without breaking the bank.

Ogier is getting quite the reputation and the Northern Rhone. I’m looking forward to getting to know this producer more.

2012 Keller Estate Rotie Sonoma Coast Syrah $54

keller estate rotie

Aromas of leather, plum, strawberry, and cigar mixed with vanilla.The oak is a little pronounced for my palate but after the wine breathed a bit the fruit and savory elements became more pronounced.The palate has a lift of acidity that gives the wine a light and elegant character. There’s a touch of tannin and sweetness on the finish that reveals its California origins but as the name implies there is a European sense about this wine also. 92 pts.

Keller Estate is owned by Arturo and Deborah Keller. Arturo fell in love with the hills of the Petaluma Gap and bought the land there back in the 1980s. The property is now planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The Petaluma Gap is an area defined by wind and fog. Every morning the fog collects in the valley and then is blown out in the afternoon by the intense cool coastal air as it rushes to warmer inland areas. Arturo’s daughter, Ana, took over the winemaking in 1998 and she says that it’s sometimes a challenge to ripen the Syrah. They also grow Viognier on the property and have to manage thinning the leaf canopy on the Syrah to get it to mature while doing the opposite on the Viognier to keep it from getting over-ripe too early.

The Syrah and 6-7% Viognier are co-fermented, there’s no whole cluster stem-inclusion on the wine. It sees about 25% new oak and spends 18 months in barrel.

Although the wine says Sonoma Coast, it really is a Petaluma Gap Syrah and Ana Keller has devoted a lot of energy to showing how her area deserves to be its own appellation. She and other growers and vintners have petitioned the government and wait for what seems to be an inevitable ruling in their favor. In the meantime Ana holds Petaluma Gap tastings to further interest consumers in what she believes are wines uniquely shaped by the wind and fog.

This is a Petaluma Gap Syrah that represents the Petaluma Gap well and I was excited to have the opportunity to taste it.

This wine was provided as a sample for purposes of review. 

2013 Radio-Coteau Harrison Grade Sonoma Coast Syrah

talkin syrah with Eric

Syrah is serious business. Talking wine with Radio Coteau’s winemaker and owner Eric Sussman. 

I had a 2005 Las Colinas Radio-Coteau Syrah blend a couple of months ago that I wrote about here. It was a beautiful wine with lots of cool-climate character and a surprisingly high alcohol content (14.7%). A recent trip to Bodega Bay coincided perfectly with Radio-Coteau’s fall pick up open house day so I was able to make a stop in to taste. The wines were very high quality across the board, including a stand-out Riesling and an elegant old-school Zinfandel.

But, of course, I was there for the Syrah. Radio-Coteau makes five Syrahs, all of which accent cool-climate Syrah vineyards of the Sonoma Coast. All had classic cool-climate character and were balanced and age worthy but it was the estate Harrison Grade Syrah that piqued my interest the most and it was the wine I walked away with.

harrison grade syrah

Harrison Grade Estate Syrah

Day 1: High toned aromas of gravel and savory aromas accented with flowers and a somewhat pervasive aroma that reminds one of blood and white pepper. Yes, don’t be scared that’s something cool-climate Syrah sometimes has. There’s a little plum there on the nose too. It’s very reminiscent of the Northern Rhone. On the palate the wine has a pretty sweetness that belies its savory nose. The finish is rather tannic and has a lift of acidity that begs for rich food. I’d love to see how this wine tastes in a few years. But I have to say it’s beautiful now and tops my list for the best Syrah I’ve tasted this year. And, that’s saying a lot. There’s a balance to this wine that only comes along every once in a while.

Day 2: The wine was a tad fruitier with some more blackberry aromas and flavors replacing the blood and plum, but there’s still a hint of meatiness there in the background. It’s even more balanced and complete after some air which may be an indication of things to come.

Eric Sussman and crew have gone through somewhat of a transition in recent years. The wines were never overly rich but most come in at lower alcohol levels now, are fermented with native yeasts, and are treated in a mostly hands off manner. The wines see various degrees of stem inclusion depending on the vintage and quality of the stems. The Harrison Grade has 45% stem inclusion for the 2013. All the Syrahs are aged in puncheons (larger oak barrels) which lessens the impact of oak flavor on the wine. The Harrison Grade comes from Radio-Coteau’s Estate Vineyard.

These are Syrahs made in a style that I’ve found matches well with my preferences and the cool-climate vineyard sites pushes it right over the edge for me. I’ll be seeking out these Syrahs for years to come.

Thank you Eric Sussman for your time.  Thank you Rick LaRocca for your photographs. 

2012 Arnot-Roberts Griffin’s Lair Vineyard Sonoma Coast Syrah

griffin's lair arnot roberts

There’s a soft spot in my heart for Arnot-Roberts, not quite to the level of Piedrasassi but I do love these guys. These were some of the first California Syrahs that made me realize how much I liked Syrah when it was done right. They make it from some classic California cool-climate vineyards like Clary Ranch, Griffins Lair, and the recently-acquired famed Que Syrah vineyard near Occidental. Their wines are not without controversy, they pick their fruit on the edge of ripeness and some would say the resulting wines are underripe and shortchange the gift of sunny climate that we have here in California.

I have found their Syrahs to be aromatically enticing, elegant, and perhaps a little light on the mid palate but that’s not anything that causes me any concern. I’d gladly exchange a little depth on the mid palate for an ethereal, elegant style of Syrah. I think their wines fit well into the pantheon of Syrah in California, someone has to be the counterpoint to the blocky, rich style that was so prevalent a few years ago.

Having said all that, the 2012 Griffin’s Lair isn’t missing anything on the mid palate. This is the first time I’ve tried their version of Griffin’s Lair and it has all that aromatic intensity of their other wines but this one matches it on the mid palate too. It’s an inky wine at 13.5%, one of the heftier wines that I’ve had from Arnot-Roberts. On first opening the nose has an earthy, almost dusty, gravelly aroma with some floral accents and fresh plum, black olives and blackberry. It’s a classic Syrah for me, and just plain delicious. Some of Arnot-Roberts’ other wines tend to take a little while to unfold in the glass. This one has a hedonistic quality that I think represents the vineyard well. It’s a fresh wine though, with a core of minerality that makes it unmistakably Arnot Roberts. I’d like to see how the wine ages too, I’d love to try it again in ten years.

Griffin’s Lair itself was planted in 2000 in the Lakeville Road area of the Petaluma Gap. It’s a site most defined by it’s cooling, drying winds, producing acidity in the fruit while also making them intensely flavored. It’s a sweet spot for Syrah and picking before the fruit is too ripe allows for the savory side of the variety to shine. This is one of the better representations of cool climate Syrah that I’ve had from this vineyard.

Waxwing 2013 Sonoma Coast Flocchini Vineyard Syrah


2013 waxwing

Waxwing Wine Cellars is a little winery here on the Peninsula. I’ve written about them a few times and I’ve also been helping out at the winery a bit over the last few years. Obviously there’s a possible conflict of interest here but I assure you I wouldn’t write about these wines if they weren’t some of the most delicious and well made examples of the varieties that I’ve tasted. And I’m not alone in thinking this, Waxwing and its winemaker Scott Sisemore has gotten some good press for a small winery.  Here’s a couple of reviews from Jon Bonne, ex-wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. and The latter is one of my favorites as it highlights the Sonoma Coast which really has become a sweet spot for Syrah in California.

Scott’s Flocchini Syrah is the first one that he ever made for his own winery. It’s peppery, menthol, earthy on the nose and all couched in blackberry and plum. This wine has all the aromas that make cool-climate Syrah different than your run-of-the-mill California Syrah or for that matter Cabernet or ripe pinot. On the palate the wine is full and finishes with a nice tannic punch that makes it beg for meat or rich cheese. I love this wine and it’s one of the first wines that Scott made that really piqued my interest.

The Flocchini vineyard is run by ex-dairy farmers Andrew and Patty Flocchini. It’s situated in the Petaluma gap right next to the famed Griffin’s Lair Syrah vineyard. Most of the Syrah there consists of the Noir clone which in Scott’s experience produces a rather tannic Syrah with lots of potential for aging. The wines are usually almost too-tannic on release but with a little time in bottle and a little air upon opening they are quite delicious.

Scott has made his latest two vintages with 100% whole cluster which gives the wines a level of complexity that really accents the cool-climate Syrah character. The wines see all neutral oak and are foot stomped and remain un-filtered and un-fined.