Bedrock Wine Co. 2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah

As soon as I opened this wine, I could tell it was going to be another great example of cool-climate Syrah.

At first I got black olive tapenade on the nose.  This wine is decidedly savory but does have some fruit.  It has a floral character to it also.  As the wine opened up I also got some aromas of salted plum (which is one of my most favorite things in the world).  Also some cranberry.  It has a smoky meaty character that reminded me of beef jerky (another one of my favorite things). This is not just your classic Cabernet with dark fruit and cassis aromas, these Syrahs bring exciting aroma profiles to the table that no other wines in California are doing.

There’s a liveliness on the mid-palate that I like.  It’s definitely a dry wine and sucks a lot of moisture out of the palate.  But that’s what I like and makes the wine perfect for pairing with food.  There’s a good grip on the finish, accompanied by orange rind and smoke flavors.  As you can tell by my tasting notes for the cool-climate Syrahs that I’ve been writing about, these wines are seriously interesting.

This Bedrock is super well made and another delicious example of cool-climate Syrah.  So far, I’ve had no stinkers.  Of course, these aren’t cheap wines so I would expect them to be made well, but it makes me wonder why they aren’t more popular.  Are they too dry and possibly too austere for the general public?  Bedrock is another super popular winery right now and when you look at the wines they have available at K and L, their Sonoma Coast Syrah is one of the cheaper ones.  In fact, it’s priced about the same as their Albariño.  This surprises me, because this Syrah is an incredible wine.

Part of me will be happy if California Syrah remains cheaper and relatively easy to get but the other part of me worries that if consumers don’t realize the unique qualities of Syrah grown in California’s cooler climes then they might eventually get phased out for something more popular like Pinot.

Bedrock Wine Company is the brainchild of Morgan Twain-Peterson who is the son of Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery fame (all of us Sonomans will remember Ravenswood’s “No Wimpy Wines” marketing campaign).  He is most interested in celebrating California’s most distinct vineyards and, in fact, is a board member of an Historic Vineyard Society group dedicated to preserving some of California’s oldest vineyards.  Based on what I had read about Bedrock wines, I had expected this wine to be darker and richer and more of a Shiraz style wine. Twain-Peterson seems to make a lot of wine from vineyards that are from warmer sites and older vines like his father did and I expected this wine to follow in that vein. But, that is not the case.  Not to say that this wine is wimpy, but it is elegant and lithe, which is not something I’d say about his father’s wines.

To sum up, there’s just a brightness to this wine that you can’t find in a California Cabernet, or, for that matter, in very few wines at all California.  Twain-Peterson professes to be attempting be making truly unique California wine and indeed this tastes nothing like the oaky, dark fruit, sweet California wines that are all too prevalent.   The Bedrock Wine Company Sonoma Coast Syrah 2010 sets itself apart from run-of-the-mill wines and gives us another glimpse into the vast potential for Syrah in California.

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Arnot-Roberts 2009 North Coast Syrah

Arnot-Roberts is a California rock star winery these days, and it seems to be consistently mentioned as a winery to watch.  I suspect that the only reason you can still get on their mailing list is either because of the slow economy or the fact that they aren’t primarily Pinot producers.  According to John Trinidad, of sfwine.wordpress.com (who coincidentally wrote another post about Arnot-Roberts recently),  this Syrah is made up of a combination of grapes from Alder Springs, Griffins Lair, and Hudson, and possibly Clary Ranch Vineyards which are all premier cool climate sights in California.

This wine smelled a little barnyard-stinky at first, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Surprisingly, it opened up pretty quickly and the nose went into a mash-up of gravel, earth, cranberry, pomegranate and black pepper.

As this wine opened up I started to get a little more strawberry aromas, but continued to get that underlying earth and gravel aroma.  This stuff is flat out delicious.  The more I smelled this wine, the more aromas I was able to parse out.  Licorice and blueberries then started to appear. This plethora of aromas might have something to do with the fact that Arnot-Roberts uses whole-cluster fermentation, which as far as I can tell means they just dump the whole grape cluster (stems and all) into the fermentation vats which reportedly can give wines a more varied aroma profile.

But what really impresses me about this wine is how balanced it is.  With such low alcohol (13%), it’s just so smooth and drinkable on the mid-palate yet it still has a nice grip on the finish.  I had a ‘09 in early 2011 and it simply was not this drinkable, so I’m guessing it’s a good time to pop open an ’09 if you have any.  By saying this wine is drinkable, I don’t want to imply that it is fruity and sweet, it is decidedly not sweet and in fact, rather tart on the finish, it has a brightness and elegance that you just don’t find in most California Cabs and in most California Pinots for that matter.  This delicate elegance is what makes the Arnot-Roberts North Coast such a great example of cool-climate Syrah.  And its what makes me such a fan of Syrah grown in the right places.  I found this wine at Arlequin Wines in San Francisco for around $35.  Admittedly, not cheap, but such a great example of CA Syrah.

Casaeda 2009 Syrah

The Casaeda is a ridiculously good Syrah for under 20 bucks.  It’s a little more on the fruity side of cool-climate Syrah, and you can definitely tell it has some oak because of the hint of vanilla on the nose, but it still has a lot of characteristics of cool-climate Syrah.  I get a fair amount of plum and pepper in this wine (I always love that combination) and it’s just got such nice fresh acidity.  It’s also got about 13% of Napa Valley Petit Verdot in it, which might account for the hint of oak and richness that I get.

The acidity and minerality are the key here though, because they lend a little rusticity to the wine and that’s what makes it right in my wheelhouse.  That being said, this wine is an attack to the palate and benefits from breathing for a while.  With a little bit of age, the wildness might mellow a bit, making it even more delicious. Its only got 14.1% alcohol too, which makes it palatable and food friendly.

At 17 bucks at K&LWines, this is a great deal and a good introduction into cooler-climate Syrah profiles.  I bought a few bottles to stick in my little wine fridge and revisit in a couple of years.

According to the K&L website, the grapes for this wine come from a high elevation just west of Sonoma, near the Sonoma side of the Carneros region.  At first, you might not think of the city of Sonoma as being very cool-climate, but those of us who know Carneros (I grew up in Sonoma), know that the fog and cool winds come in through the Petaluma Gap and cool things down considerably in the morning during the summer months.  Throw in the higher elevation and you get a great example of cool-climate California Syrah.

Campbell Ranch Vineyard Anthill Farms Syrah 2009

I’ll admit, at first I didn’t actually like this wine, which would be a sad way to start my new blog devoted to cool-climate syrah.  On the nose I got a big shot of raspberries and that was all, the mid-palate seemed thin and harsh and that led into a metallic, acidic, and mineral finish.  But, as it turned out it just needed some time.  I re-corked the bottle and left it on the counter to rest for the night.

The next afternoon it was a different wine.  Still some nice berry fruit (but more blackberry) on the nose but also a hint of salty black olives, minerals, and beef jerky.  The mid-palate rounded out and the minerality and acidity meshed together for a much more palatable finish.  It has a nice licorice aftertaste too.  This is decidedly not a simple, gulpable, sweet shiraz.  This is Syrah, this is manly stuff with lots of acidity.   It’s a wine you need to get to know a bit, a wine that you need to think about, a wine that’s at once brawny and delicate.

It turns out that this was the perfect wine to start my blog with.  It’s complex, low-alcohol, savory, and has a ton of possibilities to pair with food.  You know those super expensive crackers you can get from Whole Foods that have currants and nuts in them and they go incredibly well with a triple-cream?  That’s what I want with this wine, it could stand up to the savory-sweetness of the crackers and the richness of the cheese and I would love it.  Unfortunately, I’m on Weight Watchers after the holidays again, so no triple cream, but that’s what I’m craving with this wine.

I can’t wait to try more Anthill Farms wines and I can only imagine how much better these wines are going to get as the vines get older.  Anthill’s website says these vines are grown in Annapolis, which I know intimately, having gotten married there.  It’s not far from the coast.  The vines are a decade old and they are low-yielding.

This is the good stuff folks, this is the stuff to seek out.  As I’ve said, I love Pinot, but these are the wines that really get me excited about Syrah.  Now, I can only hope that Anthill continues their Syrah program and that others jump on board.

I found this wine at Roberts Market in Woodside, CA (which has a great California wine selection by the way).

Anthill Farms Winery

Why Syrah?

Syrah, why start a blog about California Syrah right now?  Much has been written about Syrah’s waning popularity in California these days.  The joke I’ve been hearing more and more lately is the one that goes, “What’s the difference between a case of pneumonia and a case of Syrah?  At least you can get rid of a case of pneumonia.”  What will be the future of Syrah in California, where will it go from here?  Pinot is king after all these days.  And Cabernet still reigns amongst the tourist set and Wine Spectator readers.

The truth is, I love Syrah but only when it’s grown in cool climates.  Without a long, cool growing season, Syrah tastes rather boring — like over-extracted cab. It can taste rather sweet and can contain over-the-top alcohol levels.  But Syrah, in the right climate, grown at the edge of its ability to ripen, can take on transcendent qualities, a combination of earthiness, dark fruit, and off-fruit flavors.

I’m certainly not the only one who loves cool-climate Syrah.  Cote-Rotie Syrahs, hermitage and other Northern Rhone varietals are renowned as some of the best wines in the world.  In California, ambitious Syrah aficionado winemakers exist, and many are attempting to grow the grape in cool climates in an attempt to bring those same transcendent qualities to California.  And they are.

These are great wines, and they deserve more praise and publicity than they are getting.  This blog will be my humble attempt to extol the virtues of these wines.  They don’t deserve to take the back seat to Pinot as they are now.

My goal is to “get to know” one of these wines as often as possible.  Of course, depending on budget, I’ll try to do more. I will try to give some background information on each.  I will celebrate these wines with the devotion that they deserve but of course if there are faults in the wine I will not ignore them. I’ll tell you where I was able to find the wines but I don’t have any relationship with any retailers or wineries.  My local wine shop is actually K and L Wines in Redwood City, CA so I’ll probably be mentioning them a lot but I have no affiliation with them.

Thanks for reading.Hurrah syrah!