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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

California Rhones - January 16, 2008


We tasted last week (1/16/08) Mostly Calif Rhones:

  1. Hudson-Shah ColumbiaVlly Viognier (13.5%; www.WoodhouseFamilyCellars.com) 2005: Med. gold color; attractive pineapply/mango/floral slight hair-oil some piney/minerally slight oak/toasty/charred very unusual/exotic nose; rich tart/minerally/piney/PineSol
    very exotic/floral/mango light charred/oak flavor; long thich/lush exotic/floral/mango/honeysuckle slight piney/minerally finish; not very characteristic of Viognier but a very exotic wine some like Alsatian GWT or PG. $37.00
  2. Andre Perret Chery AC: Condrieu (MeBalP; 14%) 2004: Med.gold color; slight SO2/cabaggy/
    reduced lovely perfumed/peachy/minerally very fragrant nose; soft bit alcoholic/hot lovely peachy/minerally/Condrieu/Viognier flavor; very long ripe/lush bit alcoholic/hot classic Condrieu/ minerally/peachy/Viog finish; a lovely fairly classic Condrieu; on the elegant/ delicate side and not the impact on the palate the nose promises. Rather pricey at $79.00
  3. GraffFamilyVnyds Chalone Mourvedre (14.2%; Graff&Head vnyds/ChaloneBench;
    www.Woodward-GraffFoundation.org) 2004
    : Med.color; ripe plummy/black cherry/Mourv slight
    dusty/earthy bit toasty/oak nose; soft bit sour very plummy/Mourv some licorice/earthy/dusty
    flavor; med.long slightly sour strong plummy/black cherry/Mourv slight earthy/dusty finish w/ light tannins; lots of Mourvedre character; attractive bit simple red. $24.50
  4. VIE "L'Intruse" Mourvedre SantaBarbaraCnty (14.5%; www.VIEWinery.com) 2005: Med.dark color;strong black cherry/plummy/Mourv slight perfumed talc/chocolaty light oak/toasty nose; bit
    tannic/hard/rough earthy/dusty slomewhat black cherry/plummy bit toasty/oak flavor; long
    strong plummy/black cherry/Mourv fairly rough/tannic/astringent finish; needs 2-5 yrs age;
    lots of plummy/Mourv character buy a bit rough & overextracted. $35.00
  5. A Donkey&Goat Syrah FenaughtyVnyd/ElDorado (14.4%; Unfltrd; www.ADonkeyAndGoat.com; 4% Viognier; 50 cs) 2005: Very dark color; rather earthy/ dusty/mushroomy strong blackberry/Syrah/spicy light oak nose; tart some ElDorado/earthy/ dusty/mushroomy strong blackberry/Syrah light toasty/oak flavor; long earthy/dusty somewhat blackberry/black cherry/spicy/Syrah light toasty/oak finish w/ light tannins; good Syrah fruit w/ lots of classic ElDorado/earthy terroir; good balance and should age well. $35.00
  6. A Donkey&Goat Syrah ViellesVignes/McDowellVllyVnyds/Mendocino (14.1%; Unfltrd;
    <1 ton/acre; 98 cs) 2005
    : Very dark/black color; lovely strong blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah/
    spicy some peppery/Rhonish bit dusty/old vines light toasty/oak nose;rich very spicy/blackberry/
    boysenberry some dusty/old vines light toasty/oak flavor; very long/lingering very spicy/blackberry somewhat peppery/Rhonish finish w/ modest tannins; needs 3-6 yrs; a terrific rendition of old-vine Syrah w/ loads of spicy character. $37.00
  7. ClavoCllrs RecklessMoment Syrah MargaritoVnyds/PasoRobles (14.7%; www.ClavoCellars.com)Neil Roberts 2004: Very dark color; very strong chocolaty/boysenberry/ Syrah/jammy/ripe slight alcoholic/hot bit jammy/ripe/licorice/spicy nose; soft/fat very
    ripe/boysenberry/chocolaty/Syrah jammy/licorice rather Oz-like bit hot/alcoholic flavor; long
    very ripe/jammy boysenberry/chocolaty/blackberry/Syrah slightly bretty bit alcoholic/hot finish
    w/ light tannins; rather Oz-like (d'Arenberg-like w/o the oak) and pretty ripe but good example of Paso Syrah. $33.00
  8. Booker Fracture Syrah PasoRobles (16.5%; www.BookerWines.com) 2005:Black color; intense boysenberry/blackberry/Syrah/licorice some spicy/roasted/peppery bit perfumed/chocolaty very interesting nose; slightly alcoholic intense boysenberry/blackberry/very spicy some peppery/
    roasted/Rhonish flavor; very long bit tannic ripe/blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah very spicy bit
    peppery/roasted/Rhonish finish; needs 2-5 yrs; a big very interesting Paso Syrah w/o being
    overripe & jammy & over-the-top; terrific first effort. $45.00
  9. VIE "LesAmours" Syrah SantaBarbaraCnty (14.5%; www.VIEWinery.com) 2005: Very dark/black color; intense blackberry/Syrah very spicy/peppery/roasted slight chocolaty light toasty/oak lovely somewhat complex nose; tart strong blackberry/Syrah bit spicy/peppery/coffee some toasty/oak/charred slightly sour flavor; very long quite spicy/blackberry/Syrah light toasty/charred/oak some peppery/Rhonish finish w/ some tannins; needs several yrs; a lovely SB Syrah w/ a touch of Rhonish character. $37.50
  10. VIE Syrah LasMadresVnyd/Carneros/SonomaCnty (Clone 174/300; 3% Viognier; 14.5%) 2005: Black color; rather herbal/peppery/roasted/black olives very cold-climate
    Syrah/espresso/roasted/very NorthernRhone strong blackberry/spicy/Syrah/pungent bit dusty complex nose; tart rather herbal/roasted/black olive very roasted/espresso/peppery/Rhonish strong
    blackberry/licorice/Syrah complex flavor; very long/lingering very roasted/peppery/green olive/ espresso/Rhonish strong blackberry/licorice finish w/ some tannins; loads of NorthernRhone
    character and cold-climate Syrah character; needs 3-6 yrs; beautiful Syrah. $39.00
  11. Tallulah Syrah DelRioVnyd/OR (15.0%) 2004: Very dark color; strong blackberry/Syrah bit ripe/
    boysenberry/black cherry light toasty/oak nose; tart bit lean attractive blackberry/boysenberry/
    black cherry/Syrah light toasty/oak pleasant flavor; med.long attractive blackberry/black cherry/
    Syrah slight earthy bit tannic finish; lots of blackberry/Syrah character but a bit one-dimensional. $33.00
  12. Tallulah Syrah SonomaCoast (14.5%; www.TallulahWines.com) 2004: Black color; beautiful spicy/peppery/cracked black pepper/classic cold-climate Syrah strong blackberry/Syrah/very spicy light toasty/oak tart very spicy/cracked black pepper very strong/spicy/blackberry/Syrah light oak/
    toasty fairly complex flavor; very long tart/zippy very cracked black pepper/spicy strong Syrah/ blackberry light toasty/oak finish w/ fair tannins; needs 3-8 yrs; a classic cold-climate/
    SonomaCoast Syrah at a great price. $31.00
  13. Cline CoolClimate Syrah LazyCRanch/PetalumaGap/SonomaCoast (13.5%) 2005: Very dark color; strong black pepper/spicy rather Rhonish some black berry/black cherry/Syrah light toasty/ oak somewhat complex nose; soft licorice/blackberry/Syrah rather pungent/toasty/ roasted/black pepper slight espresso/roasted slight Fr.oak/toasty/oak flavor; long peppery/black olive/cracked black pepper strong blackberry/licorice/Syrah finish w/ light tannins; loads of cold-climate Syrah character; one of the best Clines I've had in yrs; a steal at $13.58
  14. Failla Syrah EstateVnyd/SonomaCoast (14.1%; www.FaillaWines.com; 125 cs) 2005: Med.dark color; very strong cracked black pepper/cold-climate Syrah very roasted/Rhonish/espresso charred/Fr.oak blackberry/Syrah rather Graillot-like complex terrific nose;tart/lean/hard/austere very structured very cracked black pepper/very Rhonish rather charred/pungent/toasty/Fr.oak espresso/roasted some blackberry/black cherry/Syrah flavor; very long intense cracked black
    pepper/spicy/blackberry/Syrah rather Rhonish/roasted/espresso tannic/structured finish; classic cold-climate/very Rhonish Syrah in the Graillot mold; stunning Calif Syrah. Fairly priced at $60.00

And more musings from TheBloodyPulpit:

1. Donkey&Goat: I liked both of these Syrahs quite a lot and thought them fairly priced. The
Fenaughty reminded me a lot of SteveEdmund's W-F version. ElDorado give the wines a rather
earthy character that makes them a bit more Rhonish than many from Calif. The McDowell was a pretty terrific Calif Syrah. It's great to see someone doing something good w/ these
Syrah grapes. Many yrs ago, the McDowellVllyVnyds Syrahs were some of the best made in Calif. The recent ones I've had have been rather on the disappointing side and not shown much of the unique character these old-vines Syrah can give.
2. Booker: I first met EricJensen at two-HdR's ago (strange how I count time by HdR's...sick)
when he sat down w/ me at lunch to relate what he was doing at Booker. At last yr's HdR BarBQue, Mary Baker brought a btl of his two Syrahs that made a very good impression on myself, and the group I think. This was my first chance to try Eric's Syrah under more controlled circumstances. I was very favorably impressed to say the least. Looking forward to
trying his other wines now.
3. VIE: I first met BrianKane at the winemaker's luncheon, when he debuted his wines two HdR's ago. I was rather impressed in that venue. This was the first time my group had the opportunity to try his Rhone wines. They were mightly impressed. Brian is located up in LakeCnty has has a vnyd there. LakeCnty is an area I think could be making wines as good as
any in Calif. They are not, however, and I taste a lot (well...some) of LakeCnty wines that are very underwhelming. It will be interesting to see what he does with his own grapes. I venture a guess they will not be underwhelming.
4. Tallulah: I first Ben & Dianna Davis something like 4 HdR's ago when they first showed their
wines. I have been, ever since, quite impressed with them. The SonomaCoast is just about as
fine a SonomaCoast/cold-climate as you can find.
5. Cline CC Syrah: This wine comes from the PetalumaGap area to the East of Petaluma. Although it part of the (very large) SonomaCoast appellation, I've never regarded this eastern fringe of SonomaCoast as "true" SonomaCoast as it was quite a ways away from the Pacific. However, over the last few yrs, I've had some Syrahs and Pinots from the PetalumaGap that have impressed me mightly. I think they should get their own AVA so they get the recognition and respect they truly deserve. Over the last few yrs, I've been rather underwhelmed by the wines coming from Cline. I got this wine from the Prima IlConsorzia club and threw it into the
tasting at the last minute w/very low expectations. Whatta surprise it was.....one of the best
Clines I've had in quite a few yrs. And a steal at this price, it is/it is.
6. Hudson-Shah Viognier: This was a wine I bought on a whim several months ago to fill at a K&L case. It's one of the most unusual renditions I've ever done see'd of Viognier. My first reaction was to dislike the wine because of its lack of Calif-like varietal character. But as I tried it, I was quite taken by it. Easily the most exotic Viognier I've ever tried. Now I'm eager to try some of their other wines as well.
7. Failla: EhrenJordan is one of Calif's great winemakers. Because of his winemaking chores at Turley, he has a reputation for making huge/over-the-top/alcoholic/oaky wines. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Turley Zins no longer represent that style anyway. The wines, particular the Syrahs, that he makes at Neyers are as good as any made in Calif. The wines he makes at Failla are, across the board, terrific wines...wines meant for aging. Very
structured. It's a wnry that seems to fly under the radar and has not really made cult status...to which I'm grateful. He has made, over the yrs, some of the most profound Syrahs in Calif. This wine, from his own Estate hard by the Pacific, is just one such wine. Mind-blowing. I first met Ehren many a yr ago at a post-HdR GrandTasting BarBQue at GaryEberle's wnry. Probably back afore HdR...maybe when it was RaisenRhones...maybe even when it
was ViognierGuild...probably the first one they held in Paso is my recollect. It was in early
June. The weather was very/very unseasonably cool...nay....cold. Fortunately, I had my biking gear along and had plenty of extra lawyers to keep warm. Because it was so friggin' cold, everybody was huddling around Gary's Que pit in order to keep from freezing. Finally, Kris (Pennick) opened up the tasting room and they started selling Eberle-logo sweatshirts and jackets. A land-office business they did that night. And still the teeth were a'chattering.
Interesting, Ehren is one of my (few) hero-winemakers with whom I've never got around to
arranging a wnry visit. I should correct that oversight someday.


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