Anaba 2009 Las Madres Vineyard Carneros Syrah 14.3% ABV


Anaba has a little tasting room that perhaps you’ve seen sandwiched into a little spot in Sonoma where 121 and 116 meet.  It’s a small tasting room and has a decidedly more down-to-earth feel than many of Sonoma’s bigger more corporate-looking locations.  It’s had a Rhone focus for a while, although on my last trip its was also tasting Chardonnay and Pinot, and they do a good job with those varieties, but it’s really their Rhone varieties that pique my interest.

Anaba is not a natural winery, in fact, I can tell by the smoothness and richness of its wines that they are probably more manipulated than many of the wines that I’ve written about for this blog.  But man, is the Syrah good.  It’s got this meaty/bacon-y aroma couched in dark chocolaty blackberry fruit.  That may sound like an anomaly for the wines I’ve been tasting and liking for this blog but for some reason I’m feeling this one.  I think it’s because it’s a throwback to the wines that got me into Syrah when I had an inexperienced palate.  It reminds me of the early Qupes and Andrew Murrays that I used to drink by the liquid ton.

It’s not a sweet wine though.  It’s just rich and doesn’t have a whole lot of energy or verve on the mid-palate.  But what it does have is some great fresh acidity on the finish and I think that’s what keeps me coming back to drink more.  This is a nostalgic wine for me, one that reminds me of the wines I drank that gave hints of the aromatic possibilities of Syrah but weren’t too much of an acidic punch on my uneducated palate.  It simply smells and tastes delicious and that slight back-end acidity makes me want to keep lifting my glass.

Unfortunately for me and for the rest of you cool-climate Syrah fans, (yes, all four of you), I received an email from the winemaker for Anaba, Jennifer Marion, in which she explained that she is no longer working with fruit from Las Madres vineyard.  Instead, she’s switched her focus to another vineyard in the Mayacamas mountains called Bismark.  Marion says that she’s excited about the fruit from Bismark because it gives similar phenolics as Las Madres but also ripens more consistently since it is above the fogline.  Although she loves the fruit from Las Madres she just worries too much each year wondering if the fruit will reach optimal ripeness.

I’m saddened by the loss of the Las Madres vineyard from the Anaba portfolio.  Yet, I understand that from a business perspective vineyards with a lot of vintage variation can be a harder sell.  Marion said that if she could choose, regardless of money and consistency, she would choose to “roll the dice” with Las Madres because of its amazing aromatics.  A quick internet search showed that quite a few other wineries are making a Las Madres Syrah, and I’ll definitely be searching these out in order to taste more fruit from the Las Madres vineyard, especially from the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages.

I wish that the wine industry were strong enough at the moment to support wineries that occasionally had wines that in some years didn’t quite reach “full ripeness”, and simply needed a few years in the bottle to eliminate some of those greener, less ripe aromas.  Much of what is being written about California right now is that there is a shift in styles back to a more restrained style.  I know that that is definitely true in some cases but I wonder if that impact is seen in the larger customer base that most wineries must cater to. Vintage variation in much of the world is a common and expected outcome of making an agricultural product such as wine.  Yet, in California where most vintages are consistently ripe, it’s possible that consumers have become spoiled in expecting such consistency.  It’s that consistency that brings talented winemakers to California but it also can hinder winemakers who otherwise might love to take a chance on grapes that might not get ripe every year.  I wish that it was more feasible for wineries in California to “roll the dice” every once in a while to really show that wine, just like weather, is a product of the earth.

9 thoughts on “Anaba 2009 Las Madres Vineyard Carneros Syrah 14.3% ABV

  1. Thank you for the info! This Syrah sounds very interesting, but I guess it is equally impossible to get now… I will look for the other Syrah from Las Madres, I’m intrigued now.

  2. I agree that California, by-and-large, has grown complacent with planting grapes firmly within their climatic range (rather than at the edges) and are thus fearful of vintage variation and taking some chances. Great wines of the world are often planted at the edges of the grapes ability to ripen. Most years you get decent fruit, some years you get sub-optimal, but some years the results are astounding. Without accepting the risk of sub-optimal years, you can’t ever really get astounding, which is what I find from a lot of California wines – always decent, never exciting.

    So sad to hear that winemakers who were once accepting this risk are backing off from that. Up in Oregon, we’re lucky in that our local consumers completely understand vintage variation, and buy Oregon wines BECAUSE OF, not in spite of, this fact. Some years are wonderfully aromatic, some have silky smooth tannins, others have more weight and power to them, but it’s their differences that make them compelling. Would love to see more of this from California.

    • Totally agree Nate, well said. Without a few off years every once in a while you can’t get the astounding results from vines that are grown on the edge. Oregon does have a leg up in this sense because of vintage variation. That said, I heard the Willamette Valley grocery stores were sold out of sugar in the 2011 vintage:)

      • True, true – but chaptalization in cooler years is common in regions planted with grapes at the edges of their tolerance (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, Champagne, etc). Which is why it is illegal in CA but legal in OR. (Interestingly, also illegal in Northern Rhone, which is definitely close to the edge for Syrah. But that’s why they still clock in at 12-12.5% alc, and why we love them).

        Adding a little sugar doesn’t bother me as much as the opposite problem – tartaric acid adds and sometimes watering back the juice to bring potential alcohols to a sane level. If the hang-time necessary to achieve “physiological ripeness” typically leads to this outcome, then you’ve clearly planted the wrong grapes for that region. Plus, acid adds always really stick out in the final wine – very hard to integrate it well, even if added to the juice before fermentation even begins (although you have the best chance of blunting the effects by doing it at this time).

      • I agree, I agree. I still think there’s something strange though about pouring bags of C & H into fermentation vats. But, yes, I will agree that adding acid is worse if it becomes common practice year in and year out. It could also be true that the grapes may not be wrong for the region but rather that the winemakers simply need to pick at a lower brix. I’ve had some wines picked “early” that have some pretty rocking phenolics and flavors.

  3. Much to be said about Jeniffer’s move toward a warmer location. There was a vintage in about 1999 where the Central Valley was relatively cool and a few wonderful Syrahs were produced. That is the exception. When Jennifer sourced fruit from us in 2009, we had a great year going on till it was dashed by 4 inches of rain on October 13th. Ripening after that was a challenge. 2010 and 2011 were also cool, moist and a bear on the growers. That said 2012 was wonderful. When we at Las Madres have a banner year, her choice up valley will stand the chance of being over ripe without the maturation we all covet. Conversely, if we have a hard year ripening the fruit, her choice may be brilliant. Who knows. I say taste our wines over these difficult last four years.

    • I want to taste more vintages of Las Madres for sure, the aromatics I got from that Anaba wine were alluring to say the least. I saw that Eric Kent makes a wine from Las Madres. Who else? I’d love to track a few down from these last few cooler vintages. And yes, as you say only time will tell if Jennifer made the right choice :).

  4. Pingback: In Search of Acidity: The 2013 Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting in San Francisco | sólosyrah

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