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Tasting 12 of California’s Best Syrah with Antonio Galloni

Yesterday, I wrote about Antonio Galloni’s approach to tasting and rating wines. The genesis of that article was the 8th Annual Wine Advocate Seminar and Tasting at the CIA’s Greystone Campus. Today, I’m discussing the twelve California Syrah he selected for the tasting.

In his preliminary comments, Antonio Galloni said that his primary goal was to use twelve great wines to showcase the differences between Syrah from different regions in California. He also wanted us to evaluate each wine on it’s own, within it’s own context, rather than trying to compare the wines on a points basis. “They are standalone great,” he said.

Galloni also believes strongly that “it’s time to take off the training wheels” with respect to varieties such as Syrah and Grenache in California. That means no longer referring to them as Rhone varieties or trying to compare a wine from Sonoma Coast or Napa Valley or Edna Valley as being like a Cote Rotie or Cornas or Hermitage. There may be some similarities of course. The varietal is the same. But the regions are different, the individual sites are different and they deserve to be evaluated independently.

California’s Syrah wines won’t get the respect they are due while being constantly compared to wines from the Northern Rhone. It’s not that our domestic wines aren’t as good. The wines are just inevitably different and our great Syrah regions and vineyards need to forge their own identities.

Today, people don’t talk about Napa Valley being a great place for Bordeaux varietals. They laud Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spring Mountain Merlot. We don’t tell the salesman at our local bottle shop we’re looking for a domestic Nuits St. George. We ask for California Pinot Noir with a certain character or from a specific region such as western Sonoma Coast or Carneros.

It’s a difficult situation though. The varieties we have been calling Rhone are still not as well known here as Cabernet or Pinot. Syrah hasn’t had a Robert Mondavi-like evangelist. Grenache hasn’t had a hit movie. And sales aren't as brisk as we might wish. But, Galloni is right. It’s time to create our own local points of reference.

Of course, that assumes region and site are important for Syrah and that the wines are worthy of the effort. Asked if he thought that Syrah reflected terroir as well as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, he responded, “there’s no question that these wines can be as transparent to site... These aren’t just twelve great Syrah. They are twelve of the best California wines that I’ve tasted in the last few years. These wines actually transcend the grape.”

We tasted the wines, and I wrote my notes, in silence, three wines at a time. Then, Galloni gave us his thoughts on them. So, my notes below are solely my impressions of the wine. Galloni’s comments, which I recorded and have abridged, follow. He did not discuss scores, but I’ve added them as found on eRobertParker.com. I’ve included prices and case volume as available.

12 California Syrah selected by Antonio Galloni, in the order we tasted them:

Araujo Estate Wines Syrah, Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley 2010
Fred Swan: Tangy dark fruit and herb on the nose with flowers, spice and smoked sausage. Full-body, very fine powdery tannins and medium+ finish. Packed with flavor; dark, meaty, delicious. Very Highly Recommended+
Antonio Galloni: More about Eisele than Syrah. I like the texture and smoky tobacco... It’s really highly reflective of where it’s from. 95 - 97 points

kongsgaard_labelKongsgaard Wines Syrah, Hudson Vineyard, Napa Valley 2009 - $150
FS: Bright black fruit, licorice and sweet herbal aromas. Full-bodied and long with fine, powdery tannins. Black licorice, black and red fruit, black Moroccan olives, earth and black pepper flavors. Engaging and beautiful. Highest Recommendation
AG: [I love] the textural richness and volume, but it’s not heavy. Incredible fruit and then the more varietal notes on the finish. A very sexy wine. 97 points

Colgin Cellars Syrah, IX Estate, Napa Valley 2009 - $175, 400 cases
FS: Sweet and briary dark red fruit on the nose with black pepper and high-toned spice. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky and grainy) with a long finish. A savory wine with a highly textured mouthfeel. Earthy spice, black raspberry, huckleberry and herb. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: Another beautiful wine I’m attracted to because of the amount of structure and freshness. Much more floral, more of a red fruit profile. I’m attracted to the higher, brighter tones. 96 points

 

Alban Vineyards “Reva” Syrah, Alban Estate, Edna Valley, 2008 - $94
FS: Very ripe black fruit, sweet herb, flowers and plenty of oak. Full body and rich, chalky tannins. Peppery black and purple fruit on the palate alongside dark flowers, spice, oak and tangerine rind. Lengthy finish. Highly Recommended+
AG: I fell in love with this wine the first time I tasted it in barrel, and then I found out the bottle was really better... It captures the house style. Voluptuous but not heavy. Floral notes throughout. I like the juxtaposition of rich fruit, but not heavy, with complexity. 96+ points

Piedrasassi Syrah, Rim Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County, 2009
FS: Chocolate, black pepper, licorice, animal and eucalyptus aromas. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky), very long. Flavors of dark fruit, earthy spice, eucalyptus, black pepper and licorice. An earthy, peppery wine with rich fruit. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: Now we get into the more Syrah-like notes, the black pepper and licorice, grilled herbs, olives, black fruit, earthiness. This is a great wine to pair with food, great brightness and acidity. One of my personal favorites. 95 points

Paul Lato Syrah, Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2010 - $95, 125 cases
FS: Bresaola, black pepper and purple fruit on the nose. Medium+ body and moderate, lightly chalky tannins. Earthy spice, dark fruit, bresaola and floral flavors. A long, meaty/savory wine with soprano notes of fruit and flowers. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: More of a lifted quality... much more floral, delicate and feminine. 96 points

 

Tensley Wines Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, 2009 - $56
FS: Aromas of grape soda, peach and five spice. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky, grainy) and a long finish. Flavors of grape soda, tangy herb, chocolate and spice. [I tasted this wine three weeks ago and didn’t get any grape soda notes then, just rich dark berries. Either way, it's really good.] Very Highly Recommended
AG: Interesting because it’s constantly changing in the glass. I find that so intriguing. Push and pull tension between feminine, graceful elements and more powerful and masculine structure and tannin. 95+ points

Samsara Wine Company Syrah, Melville Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, 2009 - $48
FS: Very floral on the nose with black pepper and juniper berry. Medium+ body and tannins (fine, powdery). The palate offers rich, dark fruit, dark flowers and juniper with a long finish. Very Highly Recommended
AG: More of those floral notes. Very clear and distinctive notes of juniper berries. Very high-toned notes of stone fruits. It’s like an orchestra with all the bass notes in the middle and then all the high notes. 94+ points

Sine Qua Non Estate Syrah, “The Duel,” Santa Rita Hills, 2008 - $220
FS: Earthy black and purple fruit, chocolate and black pepper on the nose. Nearly full-bodied with medium+, very finely powdered tannins. Very sensuous and long with rich dark fruit, oak and chocolate. Highest Recommendation
AG: Textural opulence, rich, voluptuous. This wine is really precise, really beautiful. Super finessed. A very different expression of Syrah. More about ampleness and generosity and creaminess. 97+ points

 

Copain Wine Cellars Syrah, Baker Ranch, Anderson Valley, 2009 - $45
FS: Aromas of spice, dark fruit, flowers and exotic wood on the nose. Medium body and medium+ chalky tannins. A long, feminine wine of flowers and exotic spice. Very Highly Recommended
AG: Almost pinot-like in texture and its ripeness of fruit. There’s a really beautiful purity of fruit. The most mind-bending wine of this flight, because it’s definitely not heavy but it’s so flavorful. There’s an intense minerality. [Note: During the tasting, Galloni said that to him, minerality is “a tension on the finish”] It’s got so much going on yet, it’s so light. 94 points

Radio-Coteau Vineyards Syrah, Las Colinas, Sonoma Coast, 2010 - $48
FS: Flavors and aromas of tangy purple fruit, sweet exotic spice and herb. Medium body and tannins (chalky). Long. Very Highly Recommended
AG: A wine of contrasts: very bright red fruit and then you have black pepper, savory notes, herb, earthiness. Constantly changing. It’s difficult to describe these wines sometimes because every time you taste them there’s something different. A dazzling wine. 93 - 95 points.

Arnot-Roberts Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2010 - $55
FS: Very earthy and meaty with elements of barnyard and black pepper. Medium body and tannins that are chalky and drying. Excellent length. A polarizing wine, but I like it. Very Highly Recommended
AG: The elegance of the Radio-Coteau, but it has more fruit, more body, more volume. It shows the richer side of Sonoma Coast Syrah. 95 points.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

My Top Picks from the 2011 Pinot Noir Shootout

Saturday, I served as one of the judges for the 10th annual Pinot Noir Shootout finals put on by Affairs of the Vine. There were three panels of judges, each evaluating 32 wines over four flights. There were 96 wines in all. Most of the wines were from California, but not all. Theoretically, they could be from anywhere.

The Shootout is a well-organized, multi-stage evaluation of wines. A very large number of wines are submitted but, unlike most wine fair situations, the wines go through several judging stages over two or more months. This means judges don’t have to wade through hundreds of wines in just one or two days. Every wine that makes the finals has successfully passed at least two prior evaluations.

My personal experience in the finals suggests that this vetting was successful. From a qualitative standpoint, the wines fell into a narrow band in my view; roughlty 87 to 93 points. There was only one wine in the 32 that I rated significantly lower. That could well have been an issue with the particular bottle. (It definitely wasn’t corked though.)

One of the nice things about the Pinot Noir Shootout is that many of the wines involved are not regularly reviewed by mainstream wine magazines. Some are only available winery-direct, in person of through the online stores.

Below are the 12 wines I rated most highly from my group of 32, in alphabetical order by winery. The overall winners from the 96 wines will be published at Affairs of the Vines when all results have been tabulated. But, if you’re looking for a new Pinot Noir to try for a holiday meal, consider those I’ve listed here.

2007 Anderson Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, $30
Speaking of small wineries, Lee Anderson's primary business is real estate as you'll see from the website. But he also has a listing for this pretty wine with delicate flavors and a lightly creamy texture. Notes of rose, dark flowers, cocoa, cedar and red cherry. Charming, ready for immediate move in.

2009 Bargetto Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, $40
A very good wine with exotic aromas and flavors pine forest, mandarin orange and tea mixed with attractive red cherry, vanilla and marshmallow. Well-balanced, good concentration.

2007 Barney & Kel (KB Cellars) Pinot Noir Russian River, $28
Cherry, dill frond, citrus zest, berries and spice on aromas are followed by a richly-bodied and supple palate. Black cherry, dark spice and oak flavors. A pleasure to drink, seemingly impossible to find. If you're in Santa Rosa, ask around.

2009 Cubanismo Vineyards “Rumba” Pinot Noir Amity-Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, $21
Rose petal, tea and strawberry aromas. Medium body and well-balanced acidity, alcohol and intensity. Flavors of tea, orange and cranberry. Medium-plus length.

2009 Davis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Soul Patch Vineyard, Russian River, $42
Ripe cherry, berries, vanilla and oak aromatics and long, very attractive flavors of dark flowers, raspberry cream soda and sweet spice. Medium tannins contribute a gentle but interesting texture.

2008 Elkhorn Peak Pinot Noir Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley, $34
The vineyard is in Jamieson Canyon, due north (across the highway and well up the hill from) the Chardonnay Golf Club. Spicy berries and slightly jammy red cherry with vanilla, oak and chocolate accents. A good drink with prominent tannins that will match up well with a juicy duck breast or beef filet.

2008 Estancia Estates Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, $31
Pretty aromas of strawberry, vanilla, cherry and pot pourri spice. Satisfying palate weight and flavors of cherry and cedar.

2009 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Sky High Ranch, Mendocino Ridge
Very long and juicy, with chewy tannins and a plethora of red fruit flavors. Pine, herb and dust add interest.

2008 Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir 667 Clone, Single Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, $52
A friendly, lightly sweet wine with maraschino cherry, vanilla, fennel and fig on the nose and raspberry jam with cocoa on the palate. A crowd-pleaser from this small, Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

2009 Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir Hearthstone Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles, $38
Yes, Pinot Noir from Paso Robles. It's been grown in the Adelaida District since 1964. This one has a very dark Pinot nose: black cherry, cola and dusty earth. Grippy tannins lead to restrained flavors, mostly cherry, vanilla, cocoa and toasty oak. A good wine for seared pork belly.

2009 Sharp Cellars Pinot Noir Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast, $48
Toasted oak, toasted marshmallow, black cherry and dried orange peel on the nose. Rich, almost creamy body, with concentrated flavors of cherry, raspberry, oak and caramel. Very long finish. A decadent Pinot.

2009 Ventana Pinot Noir Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $29
Garnet tones made this wine look older than it is. The delicate aromatics also showed development: dried fruit, cola, driftwood and sarsparilla. Medium body with good acidity and balance. Light, jammy red fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dusty wood on the palate.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

California Chardonnay You’ll Want to Buy

There is a lot of angst in the media about California Chardonnay again. The controversy doesn’t seem to have affected sales much though. People still buy it by the gallon, sometimes literally. So, why all the hullabaloo?

There is plenty of good, expressive Chardonnay coming from California. However, you may have to search a bit for it. The best wines, which are not always expensive, may not be the ones on your local grocery store shelf. That is especially true if you don’t live in California. To help you find the good stuff, I’m providing a list of some of the ones I’ve enjoyed most over the last year. If you want to cut to the chase, or run to the store, just skip down to my recommendations at the end because the next few paragraphs will discuss some of the current controversy.

Wine Worth the Money: 2006 Kobalt Cabernet Sauvignon

There are a lot of conversations these days that include phrases like “with this economy” and “in these troubled economic times.” Clearly, few of us are spending money as freely now as we may have two or three years ago. Whether a person’s income is actually lower or they just feel more comfortable spending less and saving more, conspicuous consumption is out and frugality is fashionable.

Wine purchasing habits have been impacted by this. Restaurants are selling fewer expensive bottles. “By the glass” is now much more popular because, even if it’s a bad deal by volume, one can simply drink less and thus spend less. In wine shops, people who used to buy truly expensive bottles have cut their average bottle price by as much as 75%. For other folks, $8 bottles are the new $20 bottle.

Despite all of the saving, bargain-hunting and prudent moderation, every now and then people want to “break out.” Maybe there’s a big birthday or anniversary. Maybe you bought AAPL at $80. Maybe you had big money on the Ducks over Cal. Whatever the reason, sometimes you’re feeling flush and you’re ready to spend big on a bottle. But no matter how badly you want to spend, you don’t want to spend badly. As with many things, the price of wine is based at least as much on the law of supply and demand, production cost, and brand power as it is on quality. You want to buy wine worth the money, not just pay for someone’s expensive real estate.

Tasting Impressions: Food & Wine Magazine 2009 American Wine Awards

Wednesday, I described the Food & Wine Magazine American Wine Awards event that took place on October 6 in St. Helena. Today’s article covers the wines themselves. As it happens, you might consider the article a shopping list.