The Oregon Syrah although it comes off as a bit oaky at first, given time in bottle is a Syrah with high-toned fresh strawberry and plum aromas mixed with salty black olives. On the palate it’s all smoky and structured acidity with a fairly tannic bite reminiscent of a Northern Rhone Syrah. 94 pts
The Applegate Syrah has even more of a cool-climate bent to it. It’s all kalamata olive and red plum with even more lift and acidity. The palate is a tad lighter and very Northern Rhone in style. There’s sort of an umami flavor to it also that reminds me of soy or a meaty sauce. Less tannin on the finish makes this a very elegant Syrah. 94 pts
Both these wines are aged in neutral oak, see minimal punchdowns, ambient yeast and were processed whole cluster.
I first had Chris Dickson’s Syrahs last year when he sent them along and I was impressed. They seem to take some time to open as they come off as rather one note at first. But when they open up they are special wines, especially for cool-climate Syrah aficionados. They are bright and savory and they are wonderful examples of what Syrah is capable of in Oregon.
Chris sees the 2014 vintage as producing a stylistically tannic and more structured wine than the 2013 vintage which he sees as more of St. Joseph in style. Perhaps the dryness of the vintage and the heat of the summer produced especially concentrated grapes. No late rain events swelled the berries and the skins maintained their tannin in the resulting wines. I don’t find the tannins to be overly present but some time in bottle would definitely result in a more cohesive wine.
It was a pleasure to check in on the 2014 vintage of Twill cellars. This continues to be one of my favorite Syrah producers out of Oregon and I look forward to seeing how they grow.
These wines were provided as samples for the purposes of review.
2012 Montes Alpha 91 pts. $17. Classic warmer climate Syrah aromas of bacon fat and smokey umami. There’s blueberry and blackberry but damn is it meaty. This is a big wine, and at the first opening I was worried it would be too oaky but given a little time in bottle the wine turns into a very good Syrah. It’s complex with just the right amount of weirdness. It reminds me of some of the better eastern Washington Syrahs I’ve had where, sure, it’s ripe but it’s interesting enough to maintain some varietal character.
2012 Montes Folly 88 pts. $90: Again there’s that similar complexity, almost a “greeness” and a meatiness that underlies the wine. As far as fruit goes, it’s mostly a blackberry jam kinda thing going on. I wish it wasn’t 15.8% (!) abv because there’s a lot to like here on the nose but the palate gets a little blown out by all the alcohol.
The Montes Folly bills itself as Chile’s first ultra-premium Syrah made from fruit from steep slopes in the inland reaches of the Colchagua Valley. I think Chile has a ton of potential for making Syrah and I can see that there’s a good Syrah in here somewhere but unfortunately, for my palate, it’s just too hot of a wine. There’s certainly a market for these types of Syrahs, it’s just not me.
The regular under $20 Syrah is more my speed, it’s got some solid cool-climate character to balance its ripeness and for around $20 it’s a screaming value.
Montes has been around since 1987 and was one of the early wineries to show that clean and modern wines could be made in Chile.
These wines were provided as samples for the purposes of review.
A distinctive savory and earthy Syrah with aromas of mushroom soup and roasted vegetables. There’s some aromas of plum fruit here too but it falls into the background behind all that savory. The palate is super-minerally and fresh with some fairly intense tannin. A fabulous example of Syrah, if not a tad rustic. Perhaps it will mellow with a little more age and certainly it has the structure to last for a very long time. 94 pts
This is the best Crozes-Hermitage wines I’ve had. The Croze-Hermitage appellation generally is seen as a lesser appellation than the other Northern Rhone designations and deservedly so. The wines are generally less interesting and come from mostly flat plains and less-distinct soil types that surround the famed hill of Hermitage. But some producers, like Graillot, challenge the traditional paradigm by making distinctive wines that as, you can tell from the tasting notes above, embody Syrah from the Northern Rhone River Valley
Belharra 2013 Syrah Carneros Sonoma Valley 2013 (sold out but some magnums available)
Plum, chocolate, mostly a fruity, not a lot of savory but a little black olive comes through with some time in the glass, not too much oak, a bit of heat coming through on the nose. Decent acidity on the mid-palate. A little spike of alcohol on the finish but it blows off with time. A big Syrah for sure but it reveals a little of the cool vineyard character of black olive brine and pepper. 90 pts Aged in neutral oak, no stem inclusion 15% ABV 50 cases produced
Belharra 2014 Carneros Sonoma County $39
Stewed fruit aromas, almost a liqueur-like nose. Again, good notes of olive and a little more red fruit character than the 2013. Not exactly a super bright Syrah but I’m trying to branch out to appreciate bigger and richer Syrahs and this one is a good introduction. There’s freshness to the palate and the new oak isn’t distracting. My favorite of the two. 91 pts. Aged in 20% new oak in puncheons, no stem inclusion. 109 cases produced.
Belharra Wines is the project of Anne Fogerty and Camille Gaio. Both have other jobs in Napa while they search out vineyard sites from surrounding areas that allow them to launch their own brand. Fogerty is the cellar master for Outpost Winery on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Gaio is the assistant winemaker for Julien Fayard in Napa.
Gaio is an avid surfer and Fogerty says that the surfing analogy of waiting for a big wave works well for how they treat the growth of the winery; they are waiting for the next big vineyard opportunity to come along and when it does they’ll be ready for it. In the meantime the winery sources their current wines from Las Madres in Carneros and a Chardonnay vineyard in Knight’s Valley. They also make an outstanding rosé from Las Madres fruit.
Las Madres is a special site and I was fortunate enough in Spring of 2014 to get invited to a tasting of all the winemakers who make wine from the Las Madres. Belharra impressed me at that tasting. You can read more about the vineyard here but suffice it to say, the vineyard makes a strong case for Carneros being a great spot for Syrah in the future. There are only two pick dates (except for the rosé pick) for Las Madres so wineries have a little less control over their own destiny but most of the wines I’ve tried from Las Madres have an olive brine character that comes through along with some savory and meaty notes.
It was a pleasure to taste the wines and I thank Anne Fogerty and Camille Gaio for sending them along. I look forward to hearing more from these two in the future.
These wines were provided as samples for the purposes of review.
Syrah is serious business. Talking wine with Radio Coteau’s winemaker and owner Eric Sussman.
I had a 2005 Las Colinas Radio-Coteau Syrah blend a couple of months ago that I wrote about here. It was a beautiful wine with lots of cool-climate character and a surprisingly high alcohol content (14.7%). A recent trip to Bodega Bay coincided perfectly with Radio-Coteau’s fall pick up open house day so I was able to make a stop in to taste. The wines were very high quality across the board, including a stand-out Riesling and an elegant old-school Zinfandel.
But, of course, I was there for the Syrah. Radio-Coteau makes five Syrahs, all of which accent cool-climate Syrah vineyards of the Sonoma Coast. All had classic cool-climate character and were balanced and age worthy but it was the estate Harrison Grade Syrah that piqued my interest the most and it was the wine I walked away with.
Harrison Grade Estate Syrah
Day 1: High toned aromas of gravel and savory aromas accented with flowers and a somewhat pervasive aroma that reminds one of blood and white pepper. Yes, don’t be scared that’s something cool-climate Syrah sometimes has. There’s a little plum there on the nose too. It’s very reminiscent of the Northern Rhone. On the palate the wine has a pretty sweetness that belies its savory nose. The finish is rather tannic and has a lift of acidity that begs for rich food. I’d love to see how this wine tastes in a few years. But I have to say it’s beautiful now and tops my list for the best Syrah I’ve tasted this year. And, that’s saying a lot. There’s a balance to this wine that only comes along every once in a while.
Day 2: The wine was a tad fruitier with some more blackberry aromas and flavors replacing the blood and plum, but there’s still a hint of meatiness there in the background. It’s even more balanced and complete after some air which may be an indication of things to come.
Eric Sussman and crew have gone through somewhat of a transition in recent years. The wines were never overly rich but most come in at lower alcohol levels now, are fermented with native yeasts, and are treated in a mostly hands off manner. The wines see various degrees of stem inclusion depending on the vintage and quality of the stems. The Harrison Grade has 45% stem inclusion for the 2013. All the Syrahs are aged in puncheons (larger oak barrels) which lessens the impact of oak flavor on the wine. The Harrison Grade comes from Radio-Coteau’s Estate Vineyard.
These are Syrahs made in a style that I’ve found matches well with my preferences and the cool-climate vineyard sites pushes it right over the edge for me. I’ll be seeking out these Syrahs for years to come.
Thank you Eric Sussman for your time. Thank you Rick LaRocca for your photographs.
Waxwing Wine Cellars is a little winery here on the Peninsula. I’ve written about them a few times and I’ve also been helping out at the winery a bit over the last few years. Obviously there’s a possible conflict of interest here but I assure you I wouldn’t write about these wines if they weren’t some of the most delicious and well made examples of the varieties that I’ve tasted. And I’m not alone in thinking this, Waxwing and its winemaker Scott Sisemore has gotten some good press for a small winery. Here’s a couple of reviews from Jon Bonne, ex-wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/Is-pink-the-new-white-A-complicated-new-era-for-5501693.php and http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Sonoma-Coast-is-a-sweet-spot-for-Syrah-3464992.php The latter is one of my favorites as it highlights the Sonoma Coast which really has become a sweet spot for Syrah in California.
Scott’s Flocchini Syrah is the first one that he ever made for his own winery. It’s peppery, menthol, earthy on the nose and all couched in blackberry and plum. This wine has all the aromas that make cool-climate Syrah different than your run-of-the-mill California Syrah or for that matter Cabernet or ripe pinot. On the palate the wine is full and finishes with a nice tannic punch that makes it beg for meat or rich cheese. I love this wine and it’s one of the first wines that Scott made that really piqued my interest.
The Flocchini vineyard is run by ex-dairy farmers Andrew and Patty Flocchini. It’s situated in the Petaluma gap right next to the famed Griffin’s Lair Syrah vineyard. Most of the Syrah there consists of the Noir clone which in Scott’s experience produces a rather tannic Syrah with lots of potential for aging. The wines are usually almost too-tannic on release but with a little time in bottle and a little air upon opening they are quite delicious.
Scott has made his latest two vintages with 100% whole cluster which gives the wines a level of complexity that really accents the cool-climate Syrah character. The wines see all neutral oak and are foot stomped and remain un-filtered and un-fined.
Domaine Durand has been around since 1996 when two brothers teamed up to take over their father’s estate. Their St. Joseph comes from steep vineyards near the village of Chateaubourg. All the grapes are de-stemmed and macerate in concrete vats for a length of time decided by the quality of the vintage. Most of the wines are made with native yeasts and are aged for about a year in large oak casks and a smaller percentage aged in concrete. The Domaine is made up of two brothers: Eric and Joel. Most of their Cornas plantings (at least for the Prémices) are from the late 1990s, with a few dating back to 1994. Eric and Joel make their Syrah in a style that is meant to drink young, due to the fact that they are working with younger vines.
2012 Domaine Durand Saint Joseph $30
Perfumed honeysuckle/rose/violet nose with hints of pepper and gravel. Pure, balanced, fresh on the mid palate with sweet plum, black pepper and good lift but not overly tannic on the finish. This is what St. Joseph should be, food friendly and not too in your face with the tannins. Just pure pleasure to drink but with enough complexity and energy to make it interesting. And the price isn’t bad either.
2012 Prémices Cornas $30
This wine was surprisingly open and full with beautiful sweet floral aromas. It also has that salted plum aroma that I can’t get enough of in cool-climate Syrah. There isn’t much savory on the nose but the fruit aromas are fresh smelling. I was also surprised by the richness on the palate and even got a hint of heat on the back end, with some rich oak mixed in. Not as tannic as I would have expected for a young Cornas. It’s a very enticing wine but perhaps a little too open and rich for my palate. I have to admit the bottle went pretty quickly though, so it’s hard to find anything to seriously complain about. I let this hang out on the counter overnight and it had more savory elements and the acidity seemed higher than the night before. It might be a good indication of where the wine is heading. It’s hard to conceive that a Cornas could be available for this modest price and I can only imagine it’s because the Cornas vines they are using are relatively young (for Cornas) so they aren’t charging the same that an older vine expert like Clape is. They also make the wine in a style that emphasizes fruit and is meant to drink young.
These are great wines that don’t break the bank. As I mentioned, these are not the rustic, classic styles of Northern Rhone Syrah that I generally like the most but they are delicious, fun wines to drink and more than accessible even at their young age.
Thanks again to my indispensable copy of John Livingston-Learmonth’s exhaustive text, The Wines of the Northern Rhone for helping me with this post.