If you are into Syrah in California, you have undoubtedly heard of Zaca Mesa. It’s been around forever and has, in fact, the oldest Syrah plantings in Santa Barbara (1978). Located in Santa Barbara County near the town of Los Olivos, it’s not exactly cool-climate but it does benefit from cooling breezes off the coast. Two of Syrah’s biggest proponents in CA worked at Zaca Mesa in the early years, Adam Tolmach of Ojai and Bob Lindquist of Qupé.
As a cool climate aficionado, I’ll admit that Zaca Mesa wasn’t on my radar. I was intrigued to see that all the wines they sent me to sample were under 14% alcohol (The Chapel G’s label read 14.5% but the winery assured me that was actually a labeling mistake and should read 13.8%). These are wines that I had thought of as being pretty big versions of Syrah but I was happy to have those assumptions challenged.
Santa Ynez Valley 2010 Syrah is Zaca Mesa’s least expensive Syrah and is made from a combination of Estate vineyards in Santa Ynez. It’s a Syrah that’s on many restaurant lists across the country. I’ve had it before and haven’t found it very interesting but I was intrigued that the 2010 vintage has an alcohol level under 14%. It’s a pretty big Syrah with a vanilla and berry nose and a slightly candied finish. I also got some rich plum flavor. The mid-palate has good acidity and the blackberry flavors carry through. It’s a big, full wine but it isn’t overblown. If you see the 2010 on any lists, it’s definitely an option to consider.
The 2011 Chapel G was my favorite wine of the bunch. It has great acidity and elegance with high toned, red-fruit aromas and a hint of something vegetal in the background. The tannins are sweet but present. This is a quality cool-climate style Syrah. It has some savory aromas but really showcases a pure, bright fruit aroma and a full, big, but not too oaky palate. I believe it really did come it at under 14% alcohol.
The 2010 Mesa Reserve was my least favorite of the three. It’s a style of Syrah that fits the “Syrah only goes with BBQ ribs” stereotype (to be fair, it probably would be pretty darn good with ribs slathered with sauce). It’s not my style, the oak is simply too present. It’s more of a creamy, vanilla style Syrah with a strawberry finish. I sense some beautiful fresh fruit flavors and some savory elements but it’s hard to parse them out. This wine sees 62% new oak, so you can see where the oak influence comes from.
Interestingly, when I opened these wines with a couple of other friends who enjoy wine but are not obsessed like me, the Mesa Reserve was the crowd favorite. It does have a smoothness and ease of drinking that could appeal to the casual drinker.
It was a pleasure to try them all and I think the Chapel G (which is a new vineyard designate for Zaca Mesa) is a wine for Syrah aficionados to seek out. And I’ll definitely consider a Santa Ynez Syrah the next time I see it by the glass on a restaurant list.
These wines were provided from the winery as samples for review.