After two tough growing years in California, the relatively perfect growing season and harvest of 2012 may show us how winemakers want to make their wine. Wines like the North Coast Syrah that are blends from different vineyards give us further insight into how winemakers (in this case Morgan Twain-Peterson) envision versions of given varietals. Syrah especially, given it’s sort of dichotomous nature (warm/cool), offers further transparency into the preferences of the winemaker.
I’m happy to say that Twain-Peterson and I have similar tastes because this is a decidedly cool-climate Syrah. It’s still a crowd pleaser, a wine with a rich mid-palate and a fair amount of up-front fruit. It’s not a wine that falls into the “too cool for school” crowd. Although it has some of those tendencies, I wouldn’t say it tends toward austerity. It’s a wine that even those who like their Syrahs big and juicy will appreciate although it probably won’t hit their palates in the perfect sweet spot. It’s kind of like a hipster band that garners the respect of the Pitchfork readers yet also appeals to the masses.
The wine: There’s a high toned nose of anise and salty black olive. Ripe fresh blackberry, no jam here, pretty big tannins on the finish but integrated. That salty olive carries over from the nose onto the mid-palate and the finish. This is not a lean wine but rather it’s full and elegant at the same time. Very little oak is present on this wine.
This is the kind of wine you want to have a lot of for yourself and for guests. Fortunately, this is one of Bedrock’s larger production wines so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
I’ve been hearing about Mullineux Syrah, one of the premier makers of Syrah in South Africa, for quite a while. They are minimalistic in their winemaking practices and therefore have a bit of cache with the natural wine-making set. So far (as I continue my worldwide Syrah education) I think that South African Syrahs can be quite delicious, not exactly on par with the complexity of the Northern Rhone Syrahs but with lots of fresh fruit when made in a style that de-emphasizes the oak.
Nice acid, a bright mid-palate and finish. Not exactly shockingly complex but just a beautifully textured and elegant Syrah. Strawberry, sweet plum and tobacco on the nose. Really impressive Syrah to have been made in a warmer climate. Very balanced on the finish with not-too much tannin. Very little oak present on the wine.
Definitely a wine to seek out for Syrah heads.
The Chante-Perdrix is a nice little Syrah that I found at one of the best wine shops in San Francisco, Arlequin Wines. I had a hunch this might be a nice example of cool-climate Syrah at a reasonable price. I was right. It’s a wine that might be a tad hard to find but it’s a great example of cool-climate Syrah.
I’ve been quite happy with the Syrahs I’ve had from the Collines Rhodaniennes area of the Northern Rhone because they are at a low price point and exhibit lots of classic cool-climate characteristics.
Dark, deep, sour olive, licorice, tar and meat aromas, this Syrah has all that cool-climate aroma complexity that I look for. There are even aromas of sour candy that carry over to a smooth mid-palate and a big lift of acidity on the finish. It’s a lower priced wine but that doesn’t make it necessarily an easy-drinking wine you can just knock back. In fact, it definitely benefits from some time in the glass or in a decanter.
Keep an eye out for Northern Rhone Syrahs from Rhodaniennes as great examples of Northern Rhone Syrah for lower prices.
Waxwing Wines, down here on the peninsula, is probably one of the best small wineries you’ve never heard of. It’s a winery in a unique industrial location but Scott Sisemore is making some amazing wines worth checking out.
The Flocchini Syrah ($32, ABV 13.4%) is from the famed Petaluma Gap region, an area named for a gap in the Sonoma coastal hills that lets in cooling wind. That wind allows the area to grow cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay. Petaluma Gap wines are generally known for their rich and full mid-palate but also their intense savory aroma profiles. This wine has all that in spades.
On the nose there’s a ton of minerality. I know minerality is a controversial term among tasters but if you’re looking for a wine just begging for that description this is it. It’s also got a lot of that plum aroma that I look for in cool-climate Syrah. The mid-palate is sweet and full, and right now, because this is a 2012, it’s got a bunch of mouth drying tannins on the finish. Let’s not be coy, this is a wine that will need some time to mellow. It’s a little unwieldy and decanting will help. I asked Scott about the tannins and he said that the vineyard block he is getting is all Noir clone that has a tendency toward a pretty big tannic finish. He believes in letting the vineyard be what it’s supposed to be so he hasn’t considered any protocols to help manage that burst of tannins. I respect Scott’s decision because the tannins point to what is great potential for aging.
The Lester ($32, ABV 13.4%) is all green peppercorn on the nose, I mean green peppercorn in a way that would be impossible to mis-identify. There’s a background of blackberries and another unmistakable aroma, dust. 100% stem inclusion in the wine accounts for a lot of that unexpected aroma profile. Just like the Flocchini, this wine has a rich and full mid-palate but with less tannin on the finish.
There’s a complexity to the wine that’s pretty intense but also a tad awkward at the moment. I think it’s a wine that’s going to age really well over the next few years and it will be exciting to see it develop.
Like many wines from the Northern Rhone, both the Flocchini and the Lester are wines that, given some judicious decanting or breathing, are beautifully elegant yet full examples of Syrah. Do yourself a favor and put these down for a while to see how they do in a couple of years.
These wines were provided as samples for purposes of review.
Bien Nacido is one of the most famous vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley of California. It’s mostly planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but some of the oldest blocks are Syrah. The “X block” is a small block of the Estrella clone planted in 1973 along with the other original plantings on the vineyard. The Bien Nacido Syrahs that I’ve had have been characterized by lots of floral aromas (even without any Viognier) and a big and full mid-palate. They lean towards a cooler climate style but with the full mid-palate of a warmer style. When made in a relatively restrained style they can be balanced and savory. That’s what I was hoping for in Bonny Doon’s 2009 X-Block Syrah at 13.3% abv and that’s what I got, at least after I let it breathe for a while.
The Bonny Doon Alamo Creek taught me that Randall Graham’s Syrahs are better left on the counter with the cork in for a night to let their secondary savory aromas develop. The first quick glass was big, fruity and blueberry-y and rather one note but after a night out on the counter the wine was singing.
The X-block had lots of floral aromas, cranberry, cigar box, black olive paste, and a touch of something that reminded me of celery soup (not a bad thing and added some character). The same flavors carry over to the mid-palate with a touch of a savory, almost umami sensation that reminds me of soy sauce. The mid-palate is full, with a nice lift of fresh cherry acidity on the finish and a good amount of tannin but not out of control. It’s a great wine, there’s a touch of oak but it’s well integrated.
Randall Graham espouses a hands-off style for his Syrahs and this was no exception. The wine was fermented with natural yeast and aged in French Oak barrels. At $50 this isn’t exactly a bargain buy but it is a fantastic expression of what the Bien Nacido vineyard Syrah can be.