2011 Arnot-Roberts Syrah Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast ABV 12% $42

Arnot Roberts Clary arnot roberts clary back

I’ve been wanting to try the Arnot Roberts Clary Ranch for a long time. Unfortunately I had not been able to get a hold of it and was balking at the price a little.  But I found a bottle at Arlequin Wines in San Francisco and decided to pull the trigger.

The Clary Ranch has enticing and mouth-watering aromas of gravel, celery root, black olive, menthol, and plum.  I can’t detect a hint of oak on this wine.  The palate is all verve and tension and licorice tobacco.  It’s not rich at all but rather elegant and energetic.  The finish has loads of nice acidity, which might be a little over the top for some (not me), and which definitely makes this a wine that can age for a long time.

Clary Ranch is one of those mythical places in California for Syrah. It’s more coastal and cooler than most other vineyards in the Petaluma Gap and is besieged by cool coastal winds and fog for most of the year.  Most years the grapes barely ripen.  One has to be committed to truly making Syrah on the edge and also be optimistic that a market will be there once its made.

Duncan Arnot-Roberts and Nathan Lee Roberts were named winemakers of the year in 2012 by Jon Bonné of the Chronicle.  Bonné called their winemaking style an example of a New California, one disassociated from the hedonistic style of years past.  I can’t help but agree with that assessment.  All the wines that I’ve tried from Arnot-Roberts are elegant and restrained with a purity of fruit left unmasked by oak and alcohol.

I briefly met Duncan Arnot-Roberts at the amazing Seven Percent Solution tasting in Healdsburg a few months ago.  When I mentioned that I was telling the story of cool-climate Syrah in California he gave me a big smile and an enthusiastic high five.  You can sense that passion and commitment in this wine.  I know that “passion” is a word that is thrown around a lot, and I try to use it sparingly, but in this case I can’t resist.  There’s no other explanation for making a distinctive wine like this year after year.

It’s wines like this that keep me writing and excited about Syrah in the New World.  Simply put, this Syrah just shouldn’t be so good, or it just shouldn’t be so damn varietally correct.  California Syrah is normally different than this, more Shiraz-like, higher in alcohol and sweeter.  But this wine is so unexpected because it’s just so out of the ordinary for California.  And this is the story that I want to tell: there are producers out there that are most definitely bucking the trend.

It’s been fun to write about French wines (and I will continue doing it to educate my palate) but sometimes I struggle to tell the story of those wines beyond the tasting notes.  They’re delicious wines, but I expect them to be exactly the way they are.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that — they simply taste appropriately French.   But New World wines made in a surprisingly elegant and food-friendly style that evoke a French sensibility is a story that gets exciting for me.  It’s a story I will continue to tell as long as there are surprising and mouth-watering wines like this.


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