Three Vintages of Halcón Alturas Syrah: Highly Recommended Cool-climate CA Syrah

halcon bottles

I’d been holding on to a 2011 Halcón Alturas Syrah while waiting to find a time to meet up with Paul Gordon, the owner, and when I was able to find a 2012, I decided to do a post on the different vintages. Paul and I met up and I was also able to taste the recently released 2013.

The 2011 really impressed me right out of the gate. There’s intriguing fig, pepper, brambly blackberry, cranberry aromas and something on the edge of herbal. This is a delicious-smelling wine, it just keeps you coming back for more. And it delivers on the palate too, good structure and energy on the mid-palate. Almost like biting into a fresh piece of fruit. The tannins on the finish are present but they’re approachable.

This wine reminds me a lot of the impressive 2009 Halcón Alturas I had, but I think I even like it more. It’s just a beautifully enticing, and delicious Syrah.

The 2012 is equally as pleasing, perhaps a bit more open and full but it still has a savory element, this time it reminds me of mushroom soup, and those enticing fruit aromas are there too with possibly a little more oak coming through at the moment.

Halcón Alturas’s 2013 wine is also delicious if not more than a little different in its aroma and textural character. This is the first year that the Halcón has used about 1/3 whole cluster on their Syrah and it’s given the wine a structure and ageability that may not have been there in its previous iterations. With vine age they’ve finally felt that they’ve started to get the first real lignification(maturation) of the stems which allowed them to consider using whole cluster.

With that structure and mouth feel comes a little bit of a downside in that the 2013 at the moment that I tasted it was less expressive and open than the other wines. I got a peppery spiciness mixed in with some brambly-bright blackberry and plum but the wine seemed a little reticent. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a spectacular wine, while not totally complete at the moment, that will develop into something even better with a little more age.

Of the wines so far, the 2011 version is probably my favorite but the 2012 and the 2009 are close seconds. I have a feeling that the 2013 will develop into something brilliant and I look forward to that progression.

I think there’s something special about Syrah grown in the Yorkville Highlands, it seems to be the perfect combination of cool and warm climate that produces Syrah with intensely aromatic qualities and full, round mid-palates. In my opinion,  are really making the wine with the right recipe, unfined, unfiltered, a little bit of new oak from large puncheons and, at least in the 2013, just the right amount of stem inclusion.

paul and jackie halcon

Paul and Jackie talking about whole cluster inclusion on the 2013. 

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey are the masterminds behind Halcón and the ones who decided to plant Syrah in such an unlikely place. Scott Shapley is the winemaker at the Roar facility which is situated in a rather mammoth warehouse in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Paul and Jackie have ideas to eventually move up to their vineyard in the next few years and will eventually take over the winemaking themselves.

The vineyard itself lies in the western edge of the Yorkville Highlands Wine Region which begins west of Cloverdale on the way to the Anderson Valley. Most of the wine in the area is, somewhat strangely, planted to Bordeaux varieties but it’s a spot where Syrah really shines, especially at the higher, sunnier (read: above the fog line) elevations. And at 2500 feet this is one of the higher elevation vineyards in all of California.

It’s a special place and one that deserves more attention for Syrah. I was lucky to be able to get a sense of how the wines are progressing through the vintages as the vineyard matures and I think I can say, without any reservation, that good things lie on the horizon for Halcón Vineyards and I’ll be there waiting for the next glass.

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