Our “in house” wine “mole” Keith also works full time at one of Hawaii’s top wine retailers. This young man has a genuine passion for searching out good wines, both locally & it seems on line too. Every now & then he puts together a BYOB winetasting at his home & invites a bunch of wine friends over to hang out, share their wine stash & talk story. This was one of those nights, which he themed Syrah.
Here is the list of wines we tasted–
2012 Urban Legend Syrah “Cooper Ranch”; 2014 Yangarra Shiraz “Estate McLaren Vale”; 2007 Whitcraft Syrah “Stolpman Ranch”; 2015 L’Ecole Syrah No. 41 “Columbia Valley”; 2011 Gramercy Cellars Syrah “Lagniappe; 2013 Villa Creek “High Road”; 2001 Girasole Syrah “Eaglepoint Ranch”; Fabrizio Dionisio Syrah “Castagnino”; 2014 Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet “Vino de Pays–Collines Rhodaniennes”; 2013 Chateau Fontanes “La Petite Serine”; 2015 Gramenon “Sierra du Sud”; 2014 JL Chave Crozes Hermitage “Silène”; 2013 Clape “Vin de Amis”; 2009 Matthieu Barrett Cornas “Les Terrasses du Serre”; 2014 Lionel Faury Côte Rôtie; 2014 Lionel Faury Côte Rôtie “Emporium; 2005 Patrick Jasmin Côte Rôtie.
Here is my comments on some of the highlights–
2012 Urban Legend Syrah “Cooper Ranch”–Urban Legend is a pretty exciting wine project in Oakland, California. They buy grapes from some very interesting nooks & crannies of California to make some interesting wine for sale at their facility in Oakland. This Barbera was grown in Plymouth, California, roughly an hour or so east of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills. A few years back, I went to visit Dick Cooper & walked away with a true admiration of him & what he does. He is definitely an icon & excels at growing Barbera. This 2012 was juicy, tasty, inviting, a real crowd pleasing style & explains why this wine project is gaining such momentum in becoming a real wine destination.
2007 Whitcraft Syrah “Stolpman Ranch”–Chris Whitcraft was a “one of kind” winemaker. Either people loved his wines or they didn’t. There was little ground in between. I am not sure if he made this 2007. Having some health issues for quite some time, he was on & off in making the wines in the 2000’s. I had always thought, 2006 was the last vintage he made himself & from 2007 on, his son, Drake, was at the helm with Chris helping. (I was REALLY sad to hear of Chris’s passing some years back. I doubt there will be another like him. Such a gifted artist). This 2007 was really good. It had the wild & wooly nose, a Whitcraft trademark, with a muskiness, a prominent earthy/forest floor core & a smoky, & uplifting surinam cherry/floral edge. On the palate, the wine flowed very well, was very harmonious & finished much more civil than one would expect. I really liked it. Kudos to Drake. (FYI–the Stolpman Ranch takes growing Syrah very seriously & is the home to some top notch grapes that’s for sure). Thank you Brent & Helen for sharing this wine.
2015 L’Ecole Syrah No. 41 “Columbia Valley”–Last year, I visited this winery, which is located outside of Walla Walla town, to taste through their wines. Their wine tasting room was bustling with business & tasters are buying whatever they can get, especially on the higher end of the spectrum. It was like a shark feeding frenzy. Good for them!!! It is understandable, as their style of wines tends to be forward, generously fruited, plush, palate satiating & certainly made people smile. This wine was along those lines. Thank you Ann for sharing this wine.
2011 Gramercy Cellars Syrah “Lagniappe”–wow, this was quite the stunner. The nose was compelling–sandalwood, dried fruit, exotic spices–with wonderful savoriness, class & intrigue. It was amazingly elegant, suave, well textured & so finely balanced. We were also quite entranced with the harmony & gracefulness displayed, given this wine is only 7 years old. Superb job guys! It shows tasters what can be in Washington. As I had mentioned last year after a visit to Washington wine country, I really think Syrah has a home to shine & excellent renditions like this one will make this relatively unsung grape variety grow in importance, prominence & acclaim there. Thank you Rani for sharing this bottle.
2013 Villa Creek “High Road”–This was quite a shock to the palate following the Gramercy wine. It was saturatingly black, was, especially initially, huge, voluminous, lavish, bordering decadent, opulent & mouthfilling with hotness in the finish. One could readily tell this was from a very warm growing area. With each additional sip, however, this wine definitely had minerality to its core (from the siliceous clay/calcareous soils in the vineyards), which made the wine seems less heavy than it actually was AND much more interesting both in the nose & palate. While I have been advocating filling the big gap that lies between Pinot & Cabernet on the winelists with more Grenache or Syrah based wines, I would say then that this wine would be a transition for the Cabernet drinker…..AND I think they will be thrilled. While Villa Creek is a highly lauded producer of Mediterranean grape variety blends out of Paso Robles, his High Road bottling hails exclusively from the much heralded, iconic James Berry vineyard. The blend changes every year as it is a wine of the vineyard…..what the vineyard wants to say in any given year…….rather than a varietal oriented wine. That is the magic of High Road. Thank you Ann for sharing this bottle.
2001 Girasole Syrah “Eaglepoint Ranch”–this was an absolutely glorious, well aged red wine in all its glory. It was something truly special. (Unfortunately, it was Cheryle’s last bottle). It was stunning in its youth AND glorious 17 years later–in BOTH cases showing the potential of what Syrah can be in California. Girasole was a project where my long time San Francisco friends–Nunzio Alioto & Jeff Figone & I purchased grapes from some very interesting & unique vineyards & asked some of our winemaker friends to craft the wine. (For more insight into that, please go to the archives section of this blog & look up the JoMani/Girasole post). This was an opportunity for us to see what a masterful winemaker could do with really good, out of the norm, grapes. In this case, it was Syrah from Eaglepoint Ranch (1400 feet above the town of Ukiah in Mendocino) & Pinot maestro Fred Scherrer–to me a match made in heaven–“mountain grown” Syrah, crafted by a Pinot master. Yes, this wine was a dream come true right out of the gates & now 17 years later, a wine, I wish I had more of. (I want to thank then Edmeades winemaker Van Williamson, then vineyard manager, Casey Hartlip & winemaker Fred Scherrer for making this happen).
2014 Jean-Luc Jamet Valin “Vino de Pays–Collines Rhodaniennes”–we, as a group, really liked this wine. It featured the dark, voluptuous Syrah fruit reminiscent of the Côte-Rôtie magical mix of violets, lavender, green peppercorns, olives & the savory/raw meat nuances, all done with the Jamet suave-ability & swag. This wine actual comes from the Valine vineyard, which is located atop the Côte-Rôtie hillsides & therefore actually outside of the AOC boundary, yet it still has pedigree & something extra to its mojo. The other bit I should clear up, is that there is now TWO Jamet producers, as the 2 Jamet brothers split up & went their separate ways. Jean-Paul Jamet still has the Domaine Jamet label & half of their prime vineyard holdings & Jean-Luc Jamet is the proprietor of this particular wine & label, using his split of the vineyards. Based upon this wine, I can’t wait to try his Côte-Rôtie “Terrasses” bottling…..& later compare, side by side, the Côte-Rôtie produced by each brother. Thank you Jamm & Erica for sharing this bottle.
2013 Château Fontanès “La Petite Serine”–from its first vintage, I have taken a fancy to this Syrah based red wine. It is the handiwork of Cyriaque Rozier, also the winemaker of Château La Roque, down in the Pic St. Loup appellations of southern France. Château Fontanès is his own project. While most noted for “country” styled wines, including one produced from Cabernet Sauvignon from his own organically/biodynamically vineyards. A while back, Cyriaque acquired some Petite Serine vine cuttings from the Rhone Valley to the north & from pretty serious minded producers & planted them in his home turf. I remember way back when early on, the most interesting, compelling northern Rhone Syrahs were, more often that not, produced from this heirloom/heritage vine at houses such as Verset, Clape, Chave & most notably Gentaz Dervieux. Good enough endorsement for me. The variable it seems, however, is the controversy of which vine is actually Petite Serine? Well, if I was impressed by the wines from that iconic quartet, then if it were up to me, I would go to each of them & plead for cuttings. Cyriaque would not disclose which producers he sought out, but I would say, I’m sure they are that level of quality. His 2013 “La Petite Serine” wine is much more interesting, savory & compelling than those from most of his neighbors. I definitely feel he is on to something & the wine is worth searching out, keeping in mind, this is NOT Cru quality or to be confused from Cornas, Hermitage & Côte-Rôtie. I should also mentioned when one tastes this wine & then look at the more than reasonable price tag, you will appreciate it more & more. Thank you Jacob for sharing this bottle.
2015 Gramenon “Sierra du Sud”–this was another big time group favorite, I would say because of its provocative transparency, apparent vinosity, balance, texture & uplifting finish. This is old vine Syrah from the northern reaches of the southern Rhone Valley, grown by a uber–au naturale minded family who lives by this principals, rather just writing about them. While most of their red wines are Grenache based, Sierra du Sud is Syrah, grown in a varied mix of clay & limestone with gravel, galets roulés, and/or sand. While I have been a fan of this domaine, their culture & their wines for quite some time, this really was the first time that the Sierra du Sud bottling rocked me. I was really taken. Thank you Heather for sharing this bottle.
2014 JL Chave Crozes Hermitage “Silène”–we were again quite taken by this wine & its very skillful winemaking. While Chave is one of the most iconic wine families in the world (& since 1481), I remember the then younger Jean Louis Chave launching his JL Chave wines in the early 90’s, almost as if to serve as entry wines to their wine world. I also remember the first 2 St Josephs were very impressive. This 2014 Crozes Hermitage “Silène” had way more class, mojo & character than almost all of the other Crozes Hermitage red wines I have previously encountered. I am sure that can be attributed to using grapes coming from more fertile, flatland parcels, while the JL Chave mainly comes from a steep hillside on the east facing flank of Hermitage hill, all done with the Chave masterful winemaking touch. I think most agreed they would buy this wine, given the chance. Thank you Keith for sharing this wine with us.
2013 Clape “Vin de Amis”–this was yet another wine everyone really seemed to fawn over. The nose was classic northern Rhone Syrah–lavender, violets, raw meat, herbs, olives, green peppercorns, musk–explosive & so compelling. In the mouth this wine was rich, surprisingly voluptuous without any sense of heaviness whatsoever, seamless & VERY savory, soulful & marvelous is the best word I could think of. It had amazing wow factor without being Cru quality. This is 100% Syrah produced from young Cornas vines & from a 1 hectare parcel of round river stone soils, just south of the village. Definitely a wine worth seeking out, especially given the quality for dollar ratio!
2009 Matthieu Barrett Cornas “Les Terrasses du Serre”–Matthieu is a young winemaker of Cornas whose notoriety is meteorically growing amongst the sommelier community & press across the country. (the Wine Spectator for instance is all over this wine & this domaine, rating it 95 points). His domaine–Domaine du Coulet–owns roughly 10 hectares of Cornas vineyards, which means over 10% of the total AOC Cornas acreage, mainly in “gore” soils (decomposing granite). His Les Terrasses du Serre bottling (1 of 4 he currently produces) is 100% Syrah–45 year old vines, 70% in oak (6 to 10 year old barrels) for 18 months & 30% in concrete egg. I didn’t know what to make it of this wine at first, as it is much more about unrestrained power, density, fortitude–attributes that warrants the high scores & accolades. While the gaminess & rustiness is toned down (thankfully for most tasters), & the winemaking very skillful, I then would question its meter on soulfulness, especially since I was brought up with Cornas from Verset, Clape & later Allemand. After all is said & done, however, I would say, yes, there is a big niche for this wine. It does make you stop, think & enjoy. Plus, on line, the wine is listed at $59.99, which is substantially lower than those of Clape & Allemand. Thank you Keith for sharing.
2014 Lionel Faury Côte Rôtie–we are big fans of this northern Rhone Valley domaine & its wines. Philippe Faury started the domaine in 1979 & over the years grew his vineyard holdings to 11 hectares (last count). I had even heard early on, they had acquired some of the breathtaking, steep St Joseph vineyards of Joseph Panel (another of my past favorites). Son, Lionel, took over the reins, I was told, in 2006 (although his father still works side by side with him). I love the purity/transparency of their wines as “there’s a real attention to detail here, and nothing is done in haste. Every method used encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility” as one writer appropriately noted. “The vines were planted in 1993 & 2008, on steep slopes (with a grade of up to 45%) facing south by south-east, from two parcels in Côte Brune (Fourvier and Le Plomb). The real compelling-ness of this wine really starts with its wonderful perfume–white & dark flower floridity, so enticing & fragrant with a core of provocative musk, sandalwood, earthy, smoky, exotic spice nuances. On the palate, it is lovely, soothing, enchanting, somewhat velvety, despite its apparent masculinity. Yup, a New Age Côte Rôtie, done in a more classical style, well worth seeking out. Thank you Storm for sharing!
2014 Lionel Faury Côte Rôtie “Emporium”–in comparison, their “Emporium” bottling comes exclusively from their Fourvier lieu-dit & is VERY different. I felt it to be more majestic & aristocratic….more pedigree–more compact, with more structure & impact. It is “quietly” more showy, at least by their standards though NEVER as showy as those from Guigal, Chapoutier & other more modernists. Both wines are 70 to 80% destemmed & aged in 220 & 600 liter barrels (Emporium for 27 months & the AOC for 18 months). I was really taken with these wines. Thank you Cheryle for sharing.
2005 Patrick Jasmin Côte Rôtie —This domaine is now run by the fourth generation of this family, extending back to the late 1800’s. I first visited back in 1991, when Robert was still alive & running the domaine. It was a very memorable visit, which is saying a lot for me when one considers I also visited–Chave, Gentaz Dervieux, Rene Rostaing, Verset & Clape, just to name a few Syrah highlights on that trip. Robert was a burly, jovial & passionate man & what stuck in my mind from that initial visit, was that he owned but only 4 hectares of prime vineyards (today it is 5 hectares), where he co-planted both 96% Syrah ( a séléction massale known as “la vieille sérine”, championing this ancient version of the varietal, known for its beautiful aromatics, smaller berries and seeds, and lower yields) with 4% Viognier. Robert used Burgundian barrels to age his wines (in different sizes) & since 1984 he said he started experimenting with new oak–10% with the 1989. He also started bottling, per his U.S. importer, Kermit Lynch’s request, his wines unfiltered & unfined with the 1989 vintage. I was fortunate to taste his Côte Rôtie back to 1978. I loved its wild rusticity, its provocative musk, earth, savage character in the wines, each vintage, which were as burly, surly & masculine as he was. This 2005 had a similar “cheesy” kind of edge, I later recalled from my early on tastes at the domaine with similar earthy, smoke, masculine qualities that I had also found in those early bottlings. I would say, that the 2005 had a much stronger oak presence, but was well integrated. This wine was just a reminder for me of where northern Syrah came from & a VERY different persona/style than that we tasted from Matthieu Barrett earlier. It’s funny, back in 1991 & on that trip, Rene Rostaing’s wines stood out from the rest, because of his avid use back then of new French oak, whereas Jasmin’s wine totally fit in. Today in comparison, Jasmin stands out from the rest, particularly this 13 year old one, because of its old style. Thank you Jamm & Erica for sharing.