I have been excited about trying a Syrah from Edna Valley for a long while. After all, the area has been known for Pinot and Chardonnay for a long while and if those cooler climate varieties can be so successful there then Syrah should be also. One of the first winemaking regions in California, the Edna Valley seems to have fallen out of favor in recent years and is flying under the radar, which may account for the lack of Syrahs that fall to retail outside of the Paso Robles/Central Coast region. Tolosa was one that I noticed at K and L Wines and decided to try out as an indicator of what’s going on with the region.
The Tolosa winery itself has been around for a while and is most well known for its Chardonnay. It’s a label one notices a lot at grocery stores and wine shops. The Syrah is less available because it’s a struggle to get the grapes riper.
Day 1: The wine is almost like a combination between cool and warm clime characteristics. It’s got some of those darker flavors and aromas that I might associate with warmer climes but it also has a brightness and freshness that I associate with cooler climes. On the nose the wine has a lot of blackberry pie, vanilla, and bacon fat. On the mid-palate, it’s lighter than you would expect and those aromas give way to flavors of spicy orange rind and a bright finish. The good news is that this is good stuff without a hint of alcohol, the bad news is that it doesn’t have as much complexity as the other cooler-climate Syrahs because it lacks in some of those off fruit flavors. It’s a good wine though, and that price point makes up for that lack of complexity.
Day 2: I love to show how the wine changes over time, so for this blog, I usually try to let the wine rest over night and taste it again the next day. I don’t taste the wines in a moment of time but rather as most people drink them – over time. This allows me to see how they evolve with air. And boy, do they evolve. This wine is another example of that.
The aromas on Day Two were markedly different: more off-fruit aromas like celery root, licorice, and a bit of black olive. The vanilla and bacon fat aromas are gone and the wine has become much more my style and more of a cool-climate style Syrah. The mid-palate still has some freshness but it’s rounder on the finish and if anything, the wine has gained some elegance. Wow, has this wine changed; I liked it at first but now I love it.
This Syrah was made in a very hands-on style. Many of the wineries that I’ve written about on this blog often pride themselves on their “Let the vineyard speak”- hands-off approach to wine making. Not so with the Tolosa Syrah.
According to their website, the wine needed a lot of work to save it from becoming compost, in the words of the winemaker, Larry Brooks: “If the vineyard and vintage are perfect with red wines you don’t really need much in the way of winemaking. That was not the case with 2009 and winemaking expertise made the crucial difference. From the get go this wine needed special care. We heated the juice in order to deactivate the Botrytis that was growing. We practiced saignee, which means to bleed off some juice, in order to increase concentration. Blending with Petite Sirah and a tiny bit of Grenache and Viognier helped as well. We fermented in small open top tanks as usual, and drained the wine down into French oak barrels, mostly older so oak flavor would be subtle. The amount of time in barrel was extended to help soften textures.”
It’s ironic that this post comes so quickly after my AmByth post in which I extolled the virtues of a non-interventionist approach to wine making. To be clear, I’m not necessarily in the camp of Natural wines, although I admit it’s easy to get caught up in the logic of letting the vineyard speak for itself. But, if the wine needs help to bring it into balance because of weather conditions then I’m willing to give Tolosa a pass.
My only caveat is that even though I believe that this wine is very good, I do look forward to tasting it in another less-challenged vintage in which the wine was not threatened by weather. All the manipulation (although seemingly necessary) makes it difficult to say whether or not Edna Valley really makes a great place for Syrah. The suggestion of greatness is there but I’ll withhold judgment. And in the meantime have another glass.
Thanks to Richard LaRocca for the amazing photo. Follow him on twitter at @cameraforge