Wind Gap Wines is a name that has become synonymous with cool-climate Syrah. Pax Mahle began his career at Pax wines and actually was one of the first producers to make wine from Laytonville’s Alder Springs vineyard. He later had a fallout with his business partner Joe Donelan and went in a different direction to make even more extremely cool-climate wines. Donelan has continued to make wines from the same vineyard sources that Pax used, some of which are cool-climate examples that I will soon be tasting for this blog. The amount of press that Wind Gap has gotten for their Syrah is somewhat surprising given the general lack of interest that Syrah is getting in California. I would say the most-mentioned names in the California cool-climate Syrah world are Wind Gap, Arnot-Roberts, and Peay. So, out of that holy Northern California Syrah trinity, this is the producer that I’ve been missing.
So, I have a confession. I’ll admit that I started this blog with a strong understanding of what I liked about California Syrah but not quite the knowledge base of Northern Rhone Syrah that I should have had. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’ve tried a fair amount of cool-climate Syrah from the wine motherland but if you put me on the spot and asked me exactly what the differences between a Saint Joseph, a Crozes Hermitage, an Hermitage, and a Côte-Rôtie were, I would not have been able to tell you. Granted, I’m not writing about those regions, but I probably should have had a little more background on the birthplace of Syrah before I started writing about its New World cool-climate iteration.
With that sudden realization I quickly started drinking all the French Syrah I had in my wine fridge in order to have a better historical knowledge and now I can say, based on my recent research, with great authority that this Wind Gap Syrah is a dead ringer for a St-Joseph Syrah. St-Joseph wines are known to be a little more rustic and a little less age-able than the other regions of the northern Rhone but are delicious and transparent examples of Syrah fruit. St-Josephs are 100% Syrah, unlike the Côte-Rôtie (which has a percentage of Viognier), and traditional producers make Syrahs with decidedly cool-climate characteristics. This Wind Gap is as close to a French style as I’ve had, it’s not straddling an imaginary line between California and French styles, it simply tastes French. And that’s a good thing.
At first, the nose on the Wind Gap is all savory aromas of black olive, gravel, and smoke. But, as the wine opens up, there are fruit aromas here too of unripe blackberries and fig. The mid-palate is full and juicy and the finish is pure pomegranates and blackberries, with some serious acid lift. This is a wine that I could have aged for a while more, and probably should have. This is pure unadulterated and delicious Syrah; it’s a varietally correct wine that anyone interested in cool-climate Syrah should try. It’s a wine that obviously makes me thirst for other examples of Wind Gap Syrah. This wine is a blend of fruit from Clary Ranch, Nellessen Vineyard and Armagh Vineyard, fermented with 100% whole clusters and aged in neutral oak.