Apsara 2012 Las Madres Syrah

Apsara Syrah
On first opening, the Apsara didn’t have that characteristic cool-climate savory character that I usually get from Las Madres Syrahs.  Let’s remember how young this wine is though.  Initially, I got more of a fresh fruit character with soft tannins on the finish. On the second day, the wine had more of those savory elements that I’m used to from Las Madres, more of a black olive aroma and beautiful sweet plum.  Not much oak on the nose.  It’s an elegant, low-tannin Syrah that’s smooth and easy-drinking with a real rich mid-palate and a bit of heat on the finish.  I think it will develop well over the next year and I expect more savory elements to surface. 
apsara whole cluster

The Apsara whole cluster is similar to the regular Syrah with the rich mid-palate but there’s an added complexity of whole cluster.  The olive character is still there but it’s more green than black.  There’s plum too and a hint of smoky tobacco. The mid-palate is rich and full and again, just the slightest heat on the back end.  

These are delicious wines and representative of the rich but complex wines from Las Madres Vineyard.  I’m very interested to see how they develop.  

Apsara’s winemaker Robin Akhurst crafts the wines in Calistoga at the Envy Wines facilities where he runs their custom crush program and also makes about 3,000 cases of wine for Envy.  Apsara is his personal project, started with his wife, and the wines, therefore, match his own palate preferences.  

Robin was born in the States but raised in Scotland where he developed an appreciation of wine that led to an enology degree from Edinburgh University.  He headed out to the wine world to learn as much as he could from other winemakers and then he and his wife decided to settle in Northern California.  

The Las Madres Syrah was Robin’s first vineyard source and he also has a 2013 Napa Sauvignon Blanc and a high-altitude Cabernet in the works.  

It’s the Syrah  I’m most interested in, of course, and it’s a great example of Syrah from Las Madres.  I think it’s going to progress even further in bottle. 
Both these Syrahs hover around 14% alcohol and retail for just under $40.
These wines were provided as samples for purposes of review.

Napa cool climate Syrah? Not exactly, but a damn good wine: Corison Helios 2005 Napa Valley Syrah $38

My wife and I had a couple of free hours to go wine tasting the other day, while my mother and stepfather were babysitting our little one.  Normally when I’m back home in Sonoma I stay there for wine tasting excursions but this time we headed to Napa to Corison Winery.

Corison is really a little gem of a place. I had been there about ten years ago and again about five years ago and was struck by how laid-back and down-to-earth it was compared with the rest of Napa’s winery estates.  On my previous visits, the tasting room was in the winery with just a little table and there was a small parking lot and barely anyone there.  Things have changed a little, the tasting fee that day was a whopping $40 for a library tasting and the tasting area was larger and more refined.  It’s still right there in the middle of a working down-to-earth winery though and the parking lot is still small.

 Corison’s somewhat understated tasting room

Corison’s winemaker, Cathy Corison, has always made a more restrained style of Napa Cabernet.  Cathy picks earlier than almost anyone else in Napa and makes wines that harken back to a traditional and perhaps more varietally correct style of Cabernet.  As you can imagine, this restrained style did not go over too well with consumers during the hedonistic mid-2000s but it is making a comeback and Cathy’s benefiting from wine consumers beginning to see the light.

The Syrah was a nice surprise for me because I didn’t know Corison even made one. On first nose in the tasting room I didn’t get a whole lot of complexity.  Likewise on the palate — it was a balanced wine but seemed a tad simple.  Still, I bought a bottle and I’m glad I did.

The Helios Syrah is far and away the best Napa Syrah I’ve tried. (I’ve yet to try a Lagier Meredith Syrah so you’ll have to take that statement with a grain of salt.)  On the nose, I get black tea and fresh aromas of blackberry and flowers.  There’s a great mid-palate too with good acidity and the fresh, just barely ripe, blackberry carries through.  This doesn’t seem like a Napa wine but at the same time it does.  There’s good fruit, there’s bright fruit, it’s not a super savory wine but it has the balance of a Syrah from cooler climes.

I wish I had been able to try it when it was young because I’m guessing this wine wasn’t easy to handle at a young age and I would have loved to see how it has developed.   The Helios label is a label that Cathy uses for certain vintages when good fruit comes available and at around $30 a bottle this wine is a great way to get acquainted with Corison’s wines but not break the bank (her lowest level cab retails for around $80).