Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions Of A Syrah Lover: Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010

I love Syrah.  As much as I like Zinfandel, Grenache or a good, smokey Merlot, I always open a bottle of Syrah just a little faster, in anticipation of what's inside.  I get that people may be confused by the difference between cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah, the same way they are confused by the difference between sweet and dry Riesling.  "That other one I had doesn't taste anything like this one!"

Cool-climate Syrah is what I go for, and the darker and funkier the better.   Since Riesling often utilizes a meter on the label to show the wine's relative sweetness, maybe Syrah producers should stop bitching about how nobody buys the stuff and band together to create a Syrah scale that would make it easier for the average wine shopper to tell what's in the bottle.  A Hawaiian shirt could signify the warm-climate side, and a parka the cool-climate side.  Just talking off the top of my head here - a wine think tank could probably come up with more suitable designations.

When I was offered the chance to sample a couple of Syrah wines by Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, I tried to play it cool by simply replying, "Sure.  Love to,"  but the "Warmest Regards" close at the bottom of my email exposed me as a wine writer who will try a Syrah of any clime, anytime.

The Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 is made from estate-grown grapes from five of the winery's vineyards: Chapel F, Cushman A and B and Mesa A and B.  The wines a Rhône-lover's delight, blending 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier.  The red and white grapes are fermented together in small barrels and aged for 16 months in French oak, 19% of which was new.  The alcohol level quite restrained, only 13.6% abv.  12,400 cases were produced and the bottles retail for $25.

The grapes are sustainably farmed by Zaca Mesa, which pioneered Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County.  Their "40 years of terroir-driven wine" claim is not just idle talk.  They were the first to plant Syrah in the SBC in 1978.  Over half the vines have been replanted since then with new rootstock and clones. The high elevation of the vineyards - 1500 feet - means cooler nights, which means better natural acidity, which means gimme some now.

The winery's website notes that 2010 was a cool vintage and offered a long growing season, for the Santa Ynez Valley.  The usual heat took the summer off and the grapes ripened in slow and steady fashion.

The 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah carries a medium-dark ruby hue and a burly nose of blackberries, carried along by dusty sage and black pepper.  The cool vintage shows itself in a note of coffee grounds.  The taste is just as complex, with the dark berries joined by spices and herbs.  The wine really does have an amazing flavor.  When I drink Syrah, this is what I want it to taste like.  The acidity is remarkable - lip-smacking good - and the tannins stay busy but don't get in the way of a smooth sip.  It's balanced.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni and the cellar and vineyard team can be proud of this one.

The folks at Zaca Mesa like it with rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary and garlic.  I won't quibble with that.  I'll also have it with beef ribs, pork chops, roast duck and all by itself if we don't feel like cooking.


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