Home | Wine Reviews | Wine Journals | Updates

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.

Syrahs - December 15, 2010

We tasted last night some Syrahs:

  1. Arnot-Roberts Syrah ClaryRanch/SonomaCoast (3 brls; 11.5%) 2008: Med.dark color; beautiful cracked black pepper/smokey/bacon fat very NorthernRhone bit dusty light floral nose; tart rather cranberry strong cracked black pepper/smokey/NorthernRhonish rather schreechy/lean/tight/tannic low fruit flavor; med. cranberry/berry light cracked pepper/NorthernRhone/pungent very tart rather tight/ hard/tannic finish; a lovely nose & nice NorthernRhone character, but pretty lean/tight/hard on the palate. $38.00
  2. Arnot-Roberts Syrah Griffin'sLairVnyd/SonomaCoast (2.5 brls; 13.5%) 2008: Very dark color; strong blackberry/Syrah/cranberry light cracked black pepper/dusty/earthy slight pungent/band aid/adhesive tape interesting/unusual nose; rather tart fairly hard/tannic light cranberry/blackberry/ dusty/Syrah light cracked pepper/NRhonish flavor; long very tart cranberry/blackberry/Syrah dusty/ earthy light cracked pepper/NRhonish finish w/ rather hard tannins; needs age; very attractive aromatics w/ more Syrah character but rather hard on the palate. $56.00
  3. Arnot-Roberts Syrah NorthBlock/HudsonVnyd/LosCarneros/NapaVlly (3 brls; 12.5%) 2008: Very dark color; rather pungent/smokey/licorice fairly cracked black pepper/NRhone some blackberry/Syrah slight pungent/band-aid/minerally rather complex nose; quite tart rather lean/tannic/hard cranberry/licorice/blackberry/Syrah some cracked pepper/NRhone/funky complex flavor; long lean/tannic/hard licorice/pungent/cracked pepper/NRhone some cranberry/blackberry/Syrah finish; very interesting aromatics but pretty hard/lean/ tannic on the palate; seems most acid of the A-R Syrahs; probably the most unusual rendition of LeeHudson's Syrah grapes I ever done see'd; badly needs age and should develop into something very interesting. $56.00
  4. WindGap Syrah SonomaCoast (375 cs; #2748; 12.7%) 2007: Very dark color; rather pungent/ smokey/licorice quite cracked black pepper/NRhone slight band aid/pungent/mineral fairly complex nose; tart/lean/tannic cranberry/licorice light floral/violets some cracked pepper/NRhone/pungent/bacony/funky flavor; long lean/tannic/hard some licorice/pungent/cracked pepper/NRhone slight cranberry/blackberry finish; badly needs age; very attractive aromatics but hard/lean on the palate. $32.00
  5. WindGap Syrah Griffin'sLair/SonomaCoast (365 cs; 14.6%; #4233) PaxMahle 2007: Very dark color; lovely smokey/pungent some cracked black pepper/NRhone some blackberry/Syrah lovely complex nose; rather tart fairly rich/smokey/pungent some cracked pepper/NRhonish fairly hard/tannic flavor; long some NRhonish/ cracked pepper slight floral/blackberry/Syrah fairly tannic/hard finish; needs more age; shows more ripeness & richness than the '08. $40.00
  6. WindGap Syrah GriffinsLairVnyd/SonomaCoast (#635; 116 cs; 112 cs; 13.6%) PaxMahle/
    Forestville 2008
    : Dark color; more dusty/earthy/less fruit light cracked pepper/smokey/pungent slight
    Rhonish pretty cherry/raspberry/Syrah light floral nose; tart rather hard/tannic light cracked pepper
    some raspberry/cranberry/Syrah/Nehi soda pop lean/tight flavor; med.long rather lean/hard/tannic slight cracked pepper/NRhonish light cranberry/floral/cherry finish; pretty aromatics but tight & hard on the
    palate; needs age. $48.00
  7. WindGap Syrah ArmaghVnyd/ChilenoVlly/PetalumaGap/SonomaCoast (#531; 12.7%; 97 cs) 2008Very dark color; strong pungent/licorice quite cracked black pepper/NRhone very smokey/bacony slight Syrah rather complex nose; tart lovely NRhone/cracked pepper/pungent/smokey/roasted slight blackberry/Syrah less tart/tannic/ hard complex flavor; very long/lingering tart bit hard/tannic very NRhone/cracked pepper/pungent/roasted/ smokey/pungent complex finish; needs age; loads of NRhone character and not as hard on the palate; my easy favorite of the WindGaps. $36.00
  8. WindGap Syrah Castelli-Knight Ranch/RRV (345 cs; 14.9%; www.WindGapWines.com; #268) 2007: Very dark color; bigger/riper blackberry/Syrah slight NRhone/cracked black pepper light toasty/oak/pungent deeper nose; slightly softer but still tart some tannic rich/blackberry/Syrah/spicy slight NRhone/cracked pepper light toasty/smokey/oak flavor; long bit softer/less tannic rich/ blackberry/Syrah slight Rhonish slight toasty/ smokey/oak finish; more lush & ripe and the most mainstream of all these Syrahs; lovely RRV Syrah. $40.00
  9. WindGap Rana Calif RW (58% Grenache/30% Mourvedre/12% Syrah; 285 cs; #1700; 14.8%) 2008: Med.color; lovely/fragrant/strawberry/Grenache/framboise/spicy very perfumed nose; tart very bright strawberry/alpine strawberries/Grenache/spicy/floral slight meaty/SRhone flavor w/ modest tannins; very long/lingering pretty/bright/strawberry/Grenache/very spicy finish w/ some tannins; a very pretty Rhone blend that should improve over the next few yrs. $45.00
  10. Cabot Syrah Kimberly's OneBarrel KlamathRiver/HumboltCnty (15.3%; 390 cs; 24 cs;
    www.CabotVineyards.com) 2006
    : Dark color; very strong cracked black pepper/smokey/pungent some blackberry/Syrah bit walnutty/earthy some band-aid/funky/adhesive tape unusual nose; tart smokey/ pungent/cracked pepper light blackberry/Syrah/walnutty/earthy bit funky/band-aid strange flavor; med.long some blackberry/Syrah/earthy/walnutty bit funky/band-aid some Rhonish finish w/ modest tannins; needs some more yrs yet; some interesting things in this wine but the funky/band-aid character is distracting.
  11. Cabot Syrah Aria's KlamaathRvr/HumboltCnty (170 cs; 14.8%) 2006: Dark color; slight funky/band-aid/adhesive tape some blackberry/Syrah/smokey/pungent dusty/earthy rather perfumed/floral/lilacs slight meaty/licorice/pungent interesting nose; tart slight band-aid/earthy/funky rather blackberry/ Syrah/meaty/smokey/earthy very perfumed/floral flavor; bit tannic/hard earthy/funky/band-aid some meaty/blackberry/licorice Syrah fairly floral/lilacs finish; needs a few more yrs yet. $32.00
  12. Cabot Syrah EXT KlamathRvr/HumboltCnty (300 cs; 14.8%) 2006: Very dark color; much cleaner strong blackberry/Syrah/licorice bit dusty/earthy/minerally some floral/lilacs/perfumed nose; softer fairly lush/ blackberry/Syrah rather earthy/dusty slight tannic bit meaty/gamey/rustic flavor; long some spicy/ blackberry/Syrah/meaty fairly earthy/dusty light floral/lilacs finish w/ light tannins; easily the best of the Cabots; cleaner, more interesting and very fairly priced at $24.00
  13. Margerum Syrah Alondra de LosPrados Vnyd/SantaYnezVlly (14.5%) 2003: Med.dark color w/ slight bricking; strong blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah/spicy very ripe some toasty/charred/oak bit complex nose; soft/smooth slight bitey/tannic bright strawberry/blackberry/Syrah some toasty/oak flavor; med. spicy/strawberry/blackberry/Syrah smooth slight tannic finish; very attractive aromatics but rather gentle on the palate; showing some nice development but probablly not going to get much better. Larry's mystery wine.
  14. Novy SantaLuciaHighlands Syrah (14.5%) 2005: Very dark color; very strong herbal/Syrah/ blackberry/floral/boysenberry/framboise very strong burnt/charred/oak complex nose; rather tart strong/rich/herbal/boysenberry/blackberry/Syrah/framboise/juicy slight grapefruity/tangy interesting flavor; long very charred/burnt/toasty/smokey/oak rather herbal/ripe/boysenberry/Syrah bit tangy/grapefruity finish; lots of SLH Syrah character and lovely development; as good as it's gonna get. $19.50

A the usual stuff from TheBloodyPulpit:

1. Over the last yr or two, there has been a mild rebellion towards Syrahs that are big/extracted/ high in alcohol and an embracing of Syrahs that are more restrained/elegant and lower in alcohols (see #3 below). Both PaxMahle/WindGap and Duncan&Nathan/Arnot-Roberts are strong proponents of this style. So I thought it would be interesting to put together a tasting of this style of Syrah. I included the Cabots as well since they are more restrained in style, and since their '07's have just been released. Mostly, this style of Syrah is achieved by taking Syrah from rather cold-climate areas. And also by harvesting earlier so the alcohols don't get so high. And whatever modifications are necessary from the winemaking side to achieve that style. Speaking of the WindGap/A-R wines; I liked them...quite a lot. Particularly because of the aromatics, often w/ lots of NorthernRhone character. However, the high acidities of these wines made them pretty
tough on the palate to taste.

Sometimes, the acidity was on the schreechy side, which made the tannins seem pretty hard & unyielding. A few were actually rather painful to taste. Which means...these wines, at this stage of their life, really need to have food to accompany them and ameleiorate the impact on the palate. Much like Italian Barbera and Nebbiolo. That said, the high acidities, which I'm not adverse to in red wines, I view as a good sign. To me, it generally means the wines well age very well and develop some wonderful aromatics. In fact, the wines reminded me a lot of EricTexier's Rhone wines, which tend to be on the acid size. Some of those, particularly the Brezeme CdR, have aged amazingly well. I had had the A-R/WindGap reds at various venues before and had liked them quite a bit. But we'd not had the reds in my tastings. It was interesting to observe my group's take on these wines. Like me, most of them really liked the aromatics, but found them pretty tough & hard on the palate and not altogether their cup of tea. Don't think they're convinced this style is the wave of the future; they didn't share my appreciation of these wines. Not wines that'll play well in Monktown.
2. Cabot: I've followed John&Kimberly's wines from the very start. They're not your typical Calif Syrahs. The OneBrl and the Aria's both had a distinctive band-aid/adhesive tape aroma that some found off-putting. When I went back and tried them the next morning from decanter, that character was pretty much gone. So these wines are ones that should be given some breathing time I suspect. One taster confidently asserted (as he is wont to do) that the wines had a bacterial problem. I wasn't convinced that was the case, though they did have a wild/funky character in the nose. Usually, people associate a band-aid character w/ brettanomyces. I didn't see that in these wines, either. The funky character may just be the expression of KlamathRiver terroir for all I know. But they all had an underlying floral/lilacs character I really liked. They reminded me a bit of some of the Syrahs from the Languedoc, rather than the NorthernRhone w/ an earthy/dusty character. I think John&Kimberly's Syrahs are wines you need to sit down with and have a nice conversation with over several hour's time. A bit more intellectual than
most Calif Syrahs I think. 
3. Back in the late '60's-early '70's (by crackey), Ridge/DavidBruce/Mayacamas/et al realized that you could make fine to great wine from Zinfandel, theretofore used mostly for jug wines. In the early-mid '70's, as the Zinfandel producers pushed the envelope to see how far they take the variety; there started to appear LatePicked/LateHarvest/Essence Zins w/ alcohols well above the then norm of 12%-13%, sometimes up above 17% or so. Increasingly, the normal alcohol levels of Zin TableWine was above 14%. This was accentuated by the drought yrs of '76-'77, when 14% alc Zins sorta became the norm.

The wine writing cabal of that day, not unlike today, were an incestuous bunch. Once somebody wrote an original idea, other writers picked up on the same theme. In the late '70's, these writers were leading a lynch mob against the increasing alcohol levels in Zinfandel. There was article after article, filled w/ rightous indignation and purple prose, as the wine writers of the day, frothing at the mouth, went on the attack of Zinfandel ("Monster Zinfandels with shabby table manners"..thank you, Charlie!!). And so what happened??? The winemakers listened these guys and started harvesting earlier, dialing back on the alcohol, seeking less extraction. Voila...we now have "food wines"...Zinfandels that were designed to...accompany food. Many of these Zins were thin/anemic/eviscerated (and lower alcohols) renditions of Zin, a shadow of their former selves a decade earlier. It was a dreadful time to be a Zin lover. The Zin market was in the doldrums. It wasn't until the late '80's (with a few exceptions), that the winemakers came to their senses and started making Zin like they used to be. Which has pretty much continued to the present day.

Now there is a new generation cabal of wine writers leading us onto the warpath again. Same ole/same ole. They rail against the intensity & extraction of Calif Pinots. They demand that the winemakers make more "natural" wines. Too many buttery/over-oaked/soft/flabby Chards. And, of course, their favorite whipping boy...the high levels of alcohol...particularly as found in Pinot and..gasp...Syrah. Hmmm...is it starting to show a pattern here?? So, over the last year, there has been a movement afoot among some of the Syrah producers to produce wines that show more elegance/balance/restraint; a reaction against the big/alcoholic/oaked/98-pt fruit bombs that Parker embraces. This is mostly achieved by planting Syrah in colder climes, harvesting earlier to attain lower alcohols.

Last March, I attended a seminar organized by BobLindquist to publicize Syrah of this type, up in Sebastapol. On the panel & showing their wines were: PatrickWill/Guigal, StevenSinger/ BakerLane, KevinClancey/EdmundsStJohn, BobLindquist/ Qupe,WellsGuthrie/ Copain, RajParr (ParrSelections), DuncanMeyer&NathanRoberts/Arnot-Roberts, and JasonDrew/DrewFamily. I thought the wines they showed were, by & large, strong testimony for this "new" style of Syrah. So...my tasting last night was to focus on Syrahs of this more restrained/elegant style. Alcohol levels ranged from 14%+ down to 11.5%. Most of these Syrahs had, by & large, wonderful aromatics...lots of cracked black pepper, very NorthernRhonish in character; less deep blackberry/ Syrah notes and more floral/lilacs/violets character that Syrah can show.

Despite the wonderful aromatics, many of these Syrahs were...just not very pleasurable to drink. Sometimes, the flavors were rather muted and tight. Many had a schreechy acidity to them on the palate; an acidity that made the (fairly modest) tannin levels seem lean/hard/harsh/bitey. I'm not particularly acid-adverse and believe a good/high acidity is an important component of their ageibility. But some of these were actually painful to drink....not a pleasure. On the plus side, I think most of these Syrahs, because of their acidity level, will probably age into something pretty interesting. But, at this point in time, they offered up little pleasure on the palate. Maybe w/ food I would have liked them more...who knows.

So...after that brief laying of the groundwork...my question: Do you feel that this mob of wine writers/bloggers/tweeters are, once again, like they did in the early-'80's with Zin, leading us down the primrose path with Syrah in their incessant/strident demands for lower-alcohol/more-restrained/more food-friendly style of Syrah??? Talk amongst yourselves. Definitive opinion will be offered up in a few days.


[Additional Wine Reviews from Tom Hill]


Home | Wine Reviews | Wine Journals | Updates

Copyright © 1993 - 2010, Tom Hill- All rights reserved
No original material may be reproduced without written consent
Mail & Comments
- Grape-Nutz
Updated 12.3110