Showing posts with label Syrah wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syrah wine. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Paso Syrah Shows Its Dirt

Denner Vineyards, in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, has been around for a couple of decades.  Ron Denner got the ball rolling in the late ‘90s, and is joined today by general manager Carol Rounsaville, winemaker Anthony Yount, assistant winemaker Alex Kemp and vineyard manager Aron Nevarez.

Located in the Templeton Gap and noted for its cool climate and dirt laced with limestone, the Willow Creek AVA is a favorite spot for those growing Rhône grapes.  The Dirt Worshipper 2018 is 98% Syrah with a small dollop each of co-fermented Roussanne and Viognier.  The winery calls it a "beastly hedonistic" wine.  That's how it goes with Syrah, and aren't you glad of it?  The wine was 45% whole-cluster fermented, stands at 14.3% abv and sells for $80, but it is available only to wine club members.  Aging took place over 21 months in 15% new French oak, 7% new Hungarian oak, and 78% previously used barrels.

This very dark wine shows a slight ruby tint along the rim.  The nose offers blackberry, black olive, a floral spray and a hint of white pepper.  The palate is a fistfighter, with sharp tannins that ease up after a decanting, a huge dark fruit profile and a generous streak of savory meat and, as expected, dirt.  The finish is joyful and lengthy. 


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Friday, October 7, 2016

Pushy Central Coast Syrah

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Bonny Doon Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one’s own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that carried away, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent. That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." The label art makes me think of the Steppenwolf song by that name. I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That’s some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it is well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing, and accounts for that slightly stunned and displaced look.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black, and the nose is savory. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It’s a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.


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Friday, February 26, 2016

Bonny Doon Pushes Syrah Value

Bonny Doon’s chief, Randall Grahm, sums up his career in one paragraph, quite a feat for a guy who seemingly has never summed up anything in one paragraph. "Like Columbus who sought a trade route to Asia, Randall Grahm set sail in 1979 for the Great American Pinot Noir," it says, continuing in more Grahmesque prose, "foundered on the shoals of astringency and finesselessness and ended up running aground in the utterly unexpected New World of Rhône and Italian grape varieties." He left finesselessness behind long ago, and who needed a new trade route to China anyway.

Grapes for the '13 Le Pousseur pushes together grapes from some great sites - 63% Bien Nacido, 34% Alamo Creek and 3% Ventana vineyards. This represents a lot more Bien Nacido than the 2012 edition, which is always good with me. Grahm says the vineyard "imparts a distinctive smoked meat/ bacon fat aspect, characteristic of the Syrah from that cool climate vineyard, even in a slightly warmer vintage." The wine clocks a reasonable 13.5% abv and retails for an even more reasonable $26.

Le Pousseur is made in Grahm's custom, a minimal-intervention, hands-off style. What you taste here are the grapes and the dirt. Plenty of dirt.

As is usual with Grahm’s wines, savory hits first, and hardest. With almost two-thirds of the grapes from the great Bien Nacido Vineyard, one might expect a dark and savory nature in this wine. Grahm, however, seems to wring more of those qualities from that great soil than other winemakers. The nose is Rhônishly funky. Meat? Don't be a jerky. Forest floor? Scrape some off your shoe. Santa Maria Valley dirt? In spades. The palate allows for more black and blue berries to show, but that darkness permeates the flavors, too. Meat, spice and cigars all come to mind. The minerality of this wine is apparent in every whiff and sip.


Monday, February 16, 2015

For Syrah, X Marks The Spot

"It smells like dirt."  My wife took in the wine's aroma again.  "I know," I replied.   She insisted, "No, really, it smells like soil."  "That's the idea."

Denise was amazed by the aromas wafting from the bottle after I had opened the wine.  She took the bottle and had a swig.  Oh, it was a ladylike swig, but there she was, my dainty little flower, knocking back a gulp of great wine right from the bottle.  I always think that when a wine has a great nose, I could just sit and only smell it.  But maybe a wine with a great nose should make us grab the bottle and have a blast, unable to wait for niceties like glassware.  It should compel us to have a taste, right then and there.

The Santa Maria soil of Bien Nacido Vineyard is amazing.  It darkens everything that comes from it.  Pinot Noir is roughened, Chardonnay is toughened and Syrah is marked with the X.

The darkness of a wine made from grapes grown in Bien Nacido Vineyard can be overwhelming.  The grapes for Bonny Doon's 2011 Bien Nacido Syrah come from Block X, an older portion of the vineyard planted with the Estrella River Syrah clone.  The wine retails for $50 and only 463 cases were produced.  A year and a half (or so) in French oak left its mark like a line in the dirt; a tic-tac-toe criss-cross map pointing the way to buried treasure.

It's a deep, dark wine with a nose that is nothing if not intense.  Savory meets fruit as tar, tobacco and spice add complexity to plum, blackberry and currant.  The palate carries that interplay further, with that dark fruit colored a little brighter by baking spices, pepper and meat.  And the dirt of Santa Maria.

In a brief (for him) synopsis of his career with grapes, winemaker Randall Grahm writes, "Having tried my hand at Grenache in 1982, it seemed that the following year it was time to further my Rhône education with Syrah.  (I didn’t quite have the financial resources to purchase them both. There weren’t many Syrah options, so I went with Cliff Giacobine’s fruit at the Estrella River Vyd in 1983. We continued to purchase from him until the Bien Nacido Syrah came into production and became our default source for Syrah. Not a lot was understood about Syrah in the day; these vines were terribly over-irrigated, and over-cropped; the blistering hot climate of the east side of Paso tended to really efface varietal character and led to grape musts the acidity and pHs levels of which were totally out of whack."

"The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones."  Grahm notes, "This clone of Syrah has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, supplanted by modern clones that are beefier, darker in color, but lack the distinctive peppery spice of the proper Syrah we love from the Northern Rhône."  Hooray for dirt.  Hooray for Santa Maria.  Hooray for Block X.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Sucker For Syrah - My Wine Weakness

If Syrah is for suckers, as some marketing types would have you believe, then include me in.  I'm a sucker for Syrah.  I love the austere and funky feel of cool-climate Syrah maybe just a tad more than I love the big jammy kiss that warm-climate Syrah lays on me.  But I'm a sucker for both ends of the Syrah spectrum.

I love Syrah from the Rhône Valley; I love it from Argentina; I love it from the rolling hills north of Santa Barbara; I love Syrah from Tuscany and Texas, from downtown to upstate, from Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to Saint Joe, wherever the four winds blow.  Someone told me once that I should have named my site "Now And Syrah," which would have been worthy of consideration had there been any sense to the phrase.

The folks at Cornerstone Cellars, who provided the Stepping Stone Napa Valley Syrah 2012 for review, are of the belief that the southern Napa Valley is an exciting region for Syrah, and who am I to argue?  Their Black Label Syrah project seeks out mature Syrah vineyards that can produce wines with a distinct personality, unique to their site.  Cornerstone's Managing Partner, Craig Camp, says "in 2012 that led us to the heights of Atlas Peak and the Soda Canyon Vineyard. This is a classic mountain syrah," he goes on, "with depth and power balanced by a fine structure and rich tannins.  Certainly this is Syrah that will reward those patient enough to cellar it."  I wish I were so patient.

The yields from the rocky well drained soils of the mountain vineyard were rather low, so only 160 cases were produced, in addition to a couple dozen magnums.  Barrel aging took place over 18 months in French Burgundy oak, 40% of which was brand new.  Retail is $40.

Camp notes that 2012 was a classic vintage, offering "a steady parade of glorious, warm sunny days and cool nights which allowed the fruit to enjoy long, even ripening.

The Stepping Stone Syrah is very dark, in color and style.  Aromas of cassis, tar, meat, tobacco and a whiff of smoke come together in tantalizing fashion, showing the effects of that new oak.  There is a very dense feel in the mouth, full and rich, with blackberry, plums, black pepper, sage, nutmeg and eucalyptus.  Vibrant acidity and pronounced tannins really serve food pairings well, and the herbal sensations last on the finish, which has great length.  Cornerstone recommends it with braised meats, but you can make mine a ribeye.  It's a beautiful experience.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Twin Syrahs From Different Barrels

A tale of two Syrahs, one of which - the Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 - I gushed about in a previous post.  Now I turn to the Zaca Mesa 2010 Mesa Reserve Syrah. 

This 100% Syrah is made from Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown in Zaca Mesa Vineyard's Mesa Block, planted in 2004.  Two different clones of Syrah were used - 174 and 383, if you are an inveterate grape nerd.  I would love to be knowledgeable enough to be able to say with a straight face, "I'd like a little more of the 174 and a little less of the 383," but I usually feel fortunate to be able say with conviction that it's either a red or white wine.

I can say that I would like a little more terroir and a little less oak, though.  This baby spent 17 months in French oak, 62% of which was new.  The other ZM 2010 Syrah spent almost as much time -16 months - in French oak, but the new oak was limited to 19% in that one.  It goes to show that a little matters a lot.

2010 being a cool vintage in the SYV, there is a good bit of spice and acidity.  Despite that, the wine is fruity enough to masquerade as a warm-climate Syrah.  It hits only 13.7% abv on the alcohol meter, 878 cases were produced and it retails for $48 per bottle.

The dark wine has aroma to burn.  Blackberry fruit plays large, while a hefty whiff of alcohol gets out right behind it.  Fans of the funk will love a tar note that grows each night the bottle is open.  As for flavors, what you smell is what you get.  Big, blackberry fruit dominates the palate, but a savory sensation does creep in a bit over time.  Every one of those 17 months in oak is present here, so be prepared for plenty of wood.  The tannins provide plenty to chew on, while the acidity is juicy.  Grab a steak and throw it near fire for a few minutes.  You are now prepared to pair.


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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