Santa Barbara County winemaker Andrew Murray created an incredibly big, aromatic Syrah/Viognier blend he calls Purple Haze. He sells this rock-targeted wine under the banner of This Is E11even Wines, a nod to the Spinal Tap reference of "turning it up to eleven." It's a Central Coast red wine - at once brawny and elegant - which, oddly, takes inspiration from the wines of the northern Rhône. Purple Haze may be an Old World blend, but it is a New World wine through and through.
Murray explains Purple Haze on his website:
"Purple Haze is inspired by the incredible wines of Côte Rôtie in the extreme northern reaches of the Rhône Valley. There, Viognier is intentionally planted amongst or adjacent to the Syrah vines. Syrah is a dark, spicy, and fruity red that benefits from the delicacy, perfume, and "lightness" of the Viognier. The Syrah for this wine comes from Verna's Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road from a block planted to the French clone, simply named 383. It is one of my favorite clones of Syrah; unfortunately it is not very widely planted. We only harvested enough to craft three barrels of this wine. The wine was open-top fermented with frequent punch-downs yielding an impossibly dark and concentrated Syrah. It always seemed like a distillation of Syrah...so I thought that it needed something to truly shine. We did some trial blends and found that about 10% Viognier added to the wine acted to both soften the wine and elevate the aromatics."
The aptly named Purple Haze - Murray says the Viognier "puts a spell on the Syrah" - is a very dark purple which gets only barely lighter around the edge. Blueberry jam on the nose does not do a solo act. It's joined by aromas of cassis, and tobacco - so aromatic it makes me think of pipe tobacco. A floral note makes a peace sign from behind the fruit. The smell is intense, like a perfume.
The wine shows every bit of its 15.9% alcohol level upon pouring, so let it sit a while before enjoying. Wonderful, dark fruit flavors explode on the palate, with deep and rich blackberry and plums. Firms tannins and a delicious acidity round out the concert. I was struck after the bottle was open a while by the way it had smoothed out. Incredibly dark and delicious, Purple Haze made me forget all about the Crosstown Traffic. 'Scuse me, while I finish off the bottle.
I notice on the website that both of the This Is E11even wines - Murray also makes a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah - are sold out. Happily, he has an encore planned. Murray tells me a white and a red E11even are coming soon.