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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.

 

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

Comments   

 
Martin D. Redmond
#1 Martin D. Redmond 2012-10-25 21:48
Great piece Fred. It must have been a blast to taste all those great Syrahs! Personally, I don't get why Syrah isn't doing better. It's a great varietal!
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Fred Swan
#2 Fred Swan 2012-10-25 22:37
Thanks, Martin. Tasting those wines side by side was definitely a rare and delicious opportunity.
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Z
#3 Z 2012-10-31 00:12
Great to see some reasonably priced syrah along w the cults. There are, IMHO, a boatload of great syrahs in CA, which represent perhaps the best QPRs in wine today. Nice to see side-by-side notes as well.
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Fred Swan
#4 Fred Swan 2012-10-31 18:58
Thanks, Z. And I agree, bang for the buck is tremendous for good California Syrah these days.
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Bryan
#5 Bryan 2013-02-15 16:33
How much was the fee to taste?
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