by Tom Hill
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.
Archive Calif Rhones -
December 7, 2011
We tried the other week (12/7/11) some Calif Rhones From The Archives:
1. Eberle Syrah FralichVnyd/PasoRoblles (13.8%) 1995: Med.light color w/ no bricking; some horsecollar/
brett fairly bright/strawberry/cherry/Syrah light spicy light pencilly/oak slight earthy fairly complex
nose; very attractive bright cherry/strawberry/Syrah fairly smooth/velvety/balanced slight tannic bit leathery/
horsecollar/brett flavor; med.long smooth/balanced/velvety slight tannic perfumed/strawberry/cherry/Syrah light
pencilly/oak finish; maybe starting to fade slightly but still chugging along and offers up considerable
pleasure in an elegant style.
2. SierraVista Syrah HerbertVnyd/ElDorado (13.0%; EB) 1997: Med.color w/ little bricking; some earthy/piney/mushroomy/
truffle rather perfumed/wet forest/loamy light toasty/oak slight Rhonish nose w/ little fruit; bit tannic/dried out
wet forest/loamy/mushroomy slight Rhonish/earthy flavor; med.long slight tannic/dried out fairly smooth piney/wet
forest/mushroomy/loamy RCCola/DrPepper complex bit Rhonish finish; drying out a bit, but very much alive, smooth on
the palate and still gives pleasure and interest. $13.75
3. Hamel Syrah SonomaCnty (Vitis Allobrigica??; 80% AlegriaVnyd/20% BradfordMtn; 14.4%) 1994: Med.color w/ slight bricking;
some toasty/oak rather spicy/peppery/licorice/pungent slight volatile rather perfumed nose; slight tannic/dried out some
spicy/peppery/pungent bit toasty/oak smooth complex flavor; long slight tannic/dried out some spicy/peppery/pungent
bit toasty/oak smooth complex licorice/smokey flavor; long slight tannic/dried out smooth peppery/licorice/spicy
light toasty/oak complex finish; starting to dry out but smooth on the palate and still gives pleasure.
4. Dehlinger Syrah EstateBttld/RRV (13.5%) 1994: Med.dark color w/ slight bricking; bit piney/forest floor some
blackberry/licorice/Syrah slight herbal/thyme/forest floor some pencilly/Burgundian/oak complex nose; very smooth/
polished/velvety light pencilly/Burgundian/oak rather spicy/thyme light licorice/blackberry/Syrah slight tannic
flavor; very long slight tannic light pencilly/Burgundian/oak spicy/thyme/licorice/blackberry/Syrah smooth/velvety
balanced complex finish; in amazing shape and great pleasure to drink; rather Pinot-like, but still speaks
5. JadeMtn Syrah ParasVnyd/MtVeeder/NapaVlly (14.5%) 1996: Med.color w/ some bricking; some TCA/musty/corked rather
toasty/charred/oak/cedary slight blackberry/Syrah; rather smooth/velvety light tannins some musty/corked horsecollar/
bretty flavor; smooth/polished bit alcoholic some musty/corked bit bretty/horsecollar finish w/ light tannins; come
together rather well but the TCA has robbed this wine. $38.00
6. EdmundsStJohn Syrah DurrellVnyd/SonomaVlly (13.6%) 1994: Med.dark color w/ some browning; some funky/vegetal/wet
leaves some reduced/wet wool somewhat meaty/black olive/tapenade bit pencilly very strange nose; slight tannic/
dried out funky/strange/decaying matter/wet leaves some meaty/tapenade bit pencilly/cedary/old wine flavor; long
some tannic/dried out rather meaty/tapenade/black olive some wet leaves/vegetal/wet wool/mineral very strange
finish; some interesting things therein but hard to like this wine; hardly any fruit evident. $25.00
6. Next Morning: Bit more browning/murky color; strong smokey/blackberry/Syrah/peppery some roasted/Rhonish slight
funky/herbal complex nose; fairly tart smokey/Rhonish/Cornas/roasted/coffee slight blackberry/Syrah slight funky/
earthy/tapenade/smoky very complex flavor w/ some tannins; long slightly funky/earthy/tapenade light blackberry/Syrah
very complex roasted/Rhonish/Cornas finish w/ some dried-out tannins; doesn't seem nearly as old/tired & funky as the
night before; a lovely old Calif Syrah but on its downside.
7. EdmundsStJohn LesCotesSauvages Calif RTW (13.7%; 42% Mourvedre/17% Grenache/17% Cinsault/
16% Syrah/8% Carignan) 1994: Med.color w/ slight bricking; rather spicy/pencilly/meaty some aromatic/floral/
strawberry slight funky/CdP-like/garrigue quite interesting/complex nose; smooth/velvety/balanced light pencilly/
meaty bit plummy/smokey/pungent flavor w/ light/smooth tannins; long smooth/polished plummy/licorice/strawberry/meaty
light pencilly/cedary finish w/ little tannins; develops some lovely/floral aromatics w/ breathing; a lovely complex
very drinkable Rhone blend. $16.00
8. Jaffurs MatilijaCuvee (72% Mourvedre/14% Syrah/14% CabFRanc; 13.4%) 1995: Med.light color w/ some bricking; strong
toasty/charred/oak some plummy/licorice/smokey/pungent complex nose; soft rather charred/toasty/oak light plummy/
licorice/pungent/tarry somewhat dried out/tannic finish; some very nice/interesting things therein but getting on
the shakey side. $18.00
9. Jaffurs Syrah SBC (13.9%) 1995: Med.color w/ slight bricking; strong toasty/charred/oak some plummy/licorice/smokey/
pungent rather complex nose; soft/smooth some olive/pungent/licorice light blackberry/Syrah balanced/elegant complex
flavor; med.long soft/smooth/elegant/balanced some pungent/smokey/charred/oak light blackberry/Syrah slight herbal/
rosemary finish w/ light tannins; dominated by the smokey/pungent character but still a bit of Syrah fruit; has come
together well and not starting to dry out yet. $18.00
10. OjaiVnyd Calif Syrah (13%) 1995: Med.color w/ slight bricking; very attractive licorice/Syrah/blackberry/strawberry
slight rosemary/spicy light cedary/toasty/oak wonderfully aromatic/complex nose; soft/smooth/balanced/velvety light
blackberry/strawberry/Syrah light cedary/toasty/smokey/oak complex flavor; very long/lingering some blackberry/Syrah/
strawberry spicy/rosemary/herbal light pungent/toasty/smokey/oak complex finish; as come together beautifully, no
signs of drying out and will probably just fade away quietly into the sunset.
11. OjaiVnyd Calif Syrah RollRanchVnyd (13%) 1995: Med.color w/ slight bricking; slight brett/horsecollar strong Syrah/
blackberry/strawberry fragrant/perfumed light cedary/toasty/oak complex nose; somewhat bretty/horsecollar/barnyardy/
funky soft slight tannic/dried out perfumed/strawberry/blackberry/Syrah slight licorice/pungent bit alcoholic flavor;
slight tannic/dried out rather bretty/barnyardy/funky some blackberry/Syrah/ripe/boysenberry finish; a bit too bretty
for me; starting to dry out and getting shakey.
12. Sunstone Syrah SBC (13.5%) 1995: Med.color w/ some browning; very strong coffee/coffee grounds/espresso/smokey/roasted/
Rhonish slight pungent/gunpowder charred/oak beautiful complex nose; soft slight tangy/metallic strong bacon fat/coffee/
espresso/roasted/Rhonish smokey slight blackberry/Syrah very complex flavor w/ light tannins; very long pungent/Rhonish/
roasted/bacon fat/coffee grounds slight blackberry/Syrah rather smooth finish w/ little tannins; a beautiful complex
very Rhonish Syrah that's probably only going to fade. $35.00
13. AndrewMurray Syrah HillsideReserve/SBC (13.5%) 1996: Dark color w/ slighht bricking; beautiful blackberry/boysenberry/
Syrah slight pungent/gunpowder/used fireworks light toasty/oak light minty/menthol very youthful/big fruit some complex
nose; tart/tangy lightly tannic very strong blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah light toasty/oak flavor; very long bit menthol/
minty strong blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah light charred/toasty/oak some complex finish w/ modest tannins; still seems
primary and full of fruit; amazingly youthful; should go another five yrs or more. $22.00
14. AlbanVnyds Syrah Reva AlbanEstate/EdnaVlly (13%) 1994: Very dark color w/ little bricking; very strong charred/oak/
pungent/smokey slight Rhonish/Cornas-like strong blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah slight menthol nose; tart smooth/polished/
velvety strong blackberry/Syrah some floral/violets strong toasted/charred/oak slight peppery/menthol/floral/violets
slight Rhonish/Cornas-like flavor w/ light tannins; very long slight floral/violets strong charred/toasty/pungent/oak
strong blackberry/Syrah/licorice light menthol/peppery finish w/ light tannins; still pretty primary and not a lot of
complexity developed; hard to believe it'll get any better; amazingly youthful w/ lots of charred oak; terrific Calif
And the usual made-up stuff from TheBloodyPulpit:
1. Eberle: The first Eberle Syrah, tasted in late '70's from barrel was my first (of many) eye-
opener to Calif Syrah. I had heard that GaryEberle, at EstrellaRiverVnyd, had a Syrah in the works,
so I made an appt for a visit. At the time, Gary was getting some good reviews of his Cabs and Chards.
So, we met at the wnry, exchanged a few pleasantries, tasted the standard EstrellaRiver fare. I then told
him I was interested in trying his Syrah (and Barbera). Gary gave me this sorta cock-eyed look as to what
kind of nut-case did he have on his hands here. When he realized I was serious, he brightened up like a
JulyFourth display and waxed eloquent about his background w/ Syrah.
Up until that point, the only Calif Syrah was the JosephPhelps, made by WalterShug. It was [b]not[/b]
a good case for Calif Syrah. Little fruit, lots of toasty/Fr.oak, more like a (simple) Calif Pinot, from
badly virused vines. When I took my first sniff of this barrel-sample; the light went on. It had a very pretty/
floral/strawberry aroma to it. It was a bit pencilly/oak on the palate w/ bright/cheerful/strawberry flavors.
Not a profound Syrah in the sense of the RhoneVlly, but at last a wine that indicated that Syrah did have a shot
at greatness in Calif. This bright/pretty strawberry character is something I still associate w/ wines from the
Estrella clone in Calif. We bought a fair amount of this wine in LosAlamos because it was so good. One yr's
vintage ('78?) came in a neat cedar box, of which I still have several. And the Barbera, from the WestSide Norman
vnyd was also quite lovely. I believe the first yr's production, my group bought something like 20% of the tiny
And the rest is history. In '82, Gary sold some of the Syrah to RandallGrahm, AdamTolmach, and BobLindquist.
Those three, plus JohnMacCready's '82 ElDorado Syrah, were the first truly great Syrahs in Calif. Both the Qupe
and the SierraVista's had grand & glorious lives out to 20 yrs and beyond. The original EstrellaRiver Syrah eventually
succumbed to phylloxera and maybe was replanted. But the famed Estrella clone lives on in Calif, thanks to
This '95 Eberle may have been one of the first vintages from HarryFrahlich's vnyd down in Templeton. Because it
was not a particularly big/intense wine in its youth, I fully expected it to be dead & gone. It was not...and still
had plenty of life and gave real pleasure. Maybe there's something to be said for restraint & balance in a wine's
ageability after all.
2. EdStJ Durrell: When we opened & poured that night, this was a hard wine to like. It had a lot of weird/funky stuff
and seemed old & tired. Left in the decanter overnight, it was a totally new person the next morning and seemed to
gather up all its strength for one last hurrah. But that next night, it was quite brown & murky and dead & gone.
3. Alban: This '94 was when JohnAlban finally got it right w/ Syrah. It was totally dominated by charred/burnt oak, which
is still pretty evident now. But the tannins have smoothed out considerably and it's probably as good as it's ever
going to get, despite still being pretty primary in character. Another btl last week was pretty shot & over the hill.
4. Ojai: The Calif Syrah was one of the best old Calif Syrahs I've had in quite some time. It's one of those rare wines
that has come together seamlessly. The RollRanch, OTOH, seemed to be getting pretty shakey. I like the RollRanch
Syrah when they're young, but don't think they have the structure for long aging that Adam's other Syrahs have.
5. Sunstone: This wnry started out making some beautiful Syrahs and Viogniers. I seem to recall that JohnKerr was their
first winemaker. They made a few good vintages and then seemed to lose it and the wines became rather bretty. Not tried
any of them in a good many yrs now. But I was quite surprised how good this Syrah had held up.
6. AndrewMurray: Made some mightly impressive wines when he started out. Some of the most spectacular vnyds in Calif up off
FoxenCanyonRd. In the late '90's, his wines started to develop a nasty streak of raging VA & I became disenchanted
with them. Now that he's making wines up behind Firestone from purchased grapes, I understand he's back at the top
of his game again.
And the usual nonsense from the BloodyPulpit:
1. Tablas blancs: I was surprised that the Picpoul and the Marsanne had a lot of ripe floral character. These two wines typically show the TCV austere character of their whites. These showed a lot more ripeness/lushness than they typically do, even though the alcohol levels were low.
OTOH, the EspritBlanc was classic TCV Esprit. Maybe one of their best yet. Though quite good now, and speaks mostly of Roussanne; it should show significant improvements over the next 10-15 yrs, maybe longer. Doesn't show the ripeness of the Picpoul & Marsanne.
2. Patelin: French patois for "neighborhood". TCV's new wine made from some Estate grapes, supplemented with purchased grapes from their neighbor vnyds in WestSide Paso. They both show a bit more lushness than the other TCV wines, but still that TCV restraint and elegance. Bot Blanc and Rouge are great values at $20.
3. EnGoblet: This is a wine made from vines on their Estate that are head pruned. Almost no one does head-pruned, newly-planted vnyds these days. I thought this was a terrific wine. They suggested this wine had an elegance & clarity from the head-pruned vines. Not sure I see that in this wine and thought it a pretty big/lush wine.
4. I have, of course, followed TCV from the very start. I was excited when I heard that they were coming to Paso, probably the true ancestral home for Syrah in Calif (GaryEberle's EstrellaRiverVnyd Syrah planting really opened the door to great Syrah in Calif). They brought in all their own cuttings from the Rhone vlly and had to work them thru the quarantine issue (in GenevaStation/NY I believe). The early focus was getting the vnyd started and propagating the Rhone varieties. Their nursery operation was a big part of their business, but I think they've gotten out of selling plant material. I was a bit puzzled in those early yrs why it took them so long to start producing wines. In those early yrs, they made wine from purchased grapes under a different label (forget the name...long time ago). Not sure the source of the grapes, but it was not very good wine. Recall, there was not much in the way of new plantings of grapes, particularly Syrah or Rhone varieties, in WestSidePaso back then, so they were probably EastSide Paso grapes.
When they did, finally, produce their first blended red (forget the name), BobSenn was so excited to show it to me in his LOW&SE tasting room. He could tell from the crestfallen look on my face that I was not impressed. I was expecting something much bigger & richer in the wine, as was becoming the vogue in Calif in those days. It had the understated restraint & balance that I've now come to recognize as the hallmark of TCV wines. "This is a wuss wine" I snorted to Bob. He gave me this knowing wink, as was his tradition when he was confident is his take on a wine, and responded.."You wait and see". About three yrs later, at dinner w/ Bob at the Casmalia HitchingPost, he brought a brown-paper bagged btl & opened it up for me, blind. "Wow" was my first response, then another "wow". It was a beautiful perfumed/fragrant, almost Cote-Rotie floral, kind of wine. "Cote-Rotie" I asked?? I could tell by the smirk on Bob's face that something was up. He unvieled the btl and triumphantly declared "Didn't I tell you". As he often did with me...Bob had the last laugh. Gads...do I miss that guy!!! End of story.
[Additional Wine Reviews from Tom Hill]
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