For this entry, I’ll compare two wines that are from the same vintage and same vineyard but made by different producers – the 2010 Copain Halcon and the 2010 Halcón Alturas. It’s an interesting exercise because there are so many wineries that claim that their wines are just an expression of the raw material they were given to work with. But is that really the case or do winemakers inevitably put their own stamp on the wines they make?
The Copain Halcon at 12.6% alcohol is just all elegance and violet beauty. The nose has hints of celery mixed with those salty plum aromas that I’ve found in a lot of cool-climate Syrahs from similar regions. Wow, this is good. Lots of gravel aromas too. The mid-palate is so perfectly balanced with fresh fruit flavors of blackberry and under-ripe strawberry. The finish has great acidity. It’s such a French style of wine and really reminds me of a Northern Rhone iteration of Syrah. The wine was made with 80% whole cluster, which might have contributed to the overall complexity of aromas.
The Halcón Alturas is totally different. It’s also good but simpler, juicier, and brighter, as opposed to brooding and savory. It has a slightly bigger style too, not jammy or oaky by any means, but with aromas closer to fruit compote or macerated fruit. There’s a similar floral component on the nose. Simply put, it’s a sweeter version of the Halcon Vineyard. At 13.7% alcohol, it’s not too sweet, but it doesn’t have that core of acidity, like the Copain does. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful wine. It’s elegant too. And it has the true Syrah aromas of plum, blackberry, and pepper, but it’s just slightly more Californian in style and there’s a lot less acidity on the finish.
All in all the wines were very different although they shared a similarity in their floral aromas. Beyond that though, there wasn’t much the same about them. I could tell they were Syrah but I would probably never have guessed that they were from they same vineyard.
Now, many, many different decisions were made in the winemaking process. Not the least of which were that Wells Guthrie at Copain picked earlier and used 80% whole cluster. I’ve heard it said that one bottle of wine represents a thousand tiny decisions by a winemaker to either intervene or not during a grape’s transformation into wine. These decisions invariably put a personal stamp on the wines so I guess it’s pretty obvious that a vineyard isn’t going to just express itself on its own. Many critics will tell you that there are certain characteristics that vineyards express across producers and I’m not necessarily disputing that possibility. But I’m guessing in those instances the wines are made in a similar style.
I wasn’t really thinking about a winner between these two wines but if you twisted my arm I’d have to go with Copain. It’s just much more of a Northern Rhone Syrah. I wanted to go the other way because the Halcón Alturas is about half the price of the Copain, but the Copain is simply more my style.
The Halcon Vineyard is certainly one to watch, and at 2,500 feet it’s got incredible potential to be a unique vineyard for Syrah in California. I can’t wait to see how the vineyard changes as it ages.