Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

Okay, back to Syrah, Syrah. My interest in this grape has grown as of late. In my process of digging and discovering, I have found that many acclaimed winemakers have begun to move away from the big Cabernet grape. I must say that I will never shun the opportunity to drink a full, lush and chewy cabernet, but one cannot deny the fact that because of its popularity, the market value to quality ratio has become pretty skewed. Many of the cult cabs in Napa are priced out at $300 or more. I have put myself on waiting lists for mailing lists out of curiosity and of course there is that underlying urge that I think all collectors have of putting something really special in their cellars. My name actually came up for an offering from the fabled Hundred Acre winery that is Jayson Woodbridge’s ultra premium baby. He sells the affordable line of world wines that all share the name Layer Cake. They run for about $15 a bottle, but Hundred Acre is another story. I got the offering in an e-mail and read the description for the wine Deep Time. It is a cabernet from the Kayli Morgan vineyard that was held in the production cellar longer than they normally hold their cabernet before bottling which is supposed to further intensify the flavors and deepen them. Two 750 ml bottles in a wooden crate were offered for $600. A girl has got to draw a line somewhere, as special as it was made to sound. Perhaps another time Jayson and until then I will comfort myself with the thought that Sideways Miles finds cabernets “exultant…(yet) prosaic,” this quoted by a non-poet.

All that just to get to Syrah, a grape that many producers and drinkers of late claim has more complexity, depth, degrees, and layers than one will ever find in a bottle of Cabernet. I have found enjoyment in Rhone style wines, usually with Syrah as the major component, but sometimes Grenache is included. Chataneuf du Pape goes well with lamb as a general rule, I have never had the pleasure of drinking a Cote Rotie, but then again I have a tendency not to go for French wines because I know so little about them. I do know that I have not had any success with trying Cotes du Rhone which is a shame because of their affordability. Australian Shiraz I find to have a forced quality and usually tastes of heavily extracted fruit. I am sure that when one gets into the Penfolds Grange level, this tendency would be lost. California does have a lot to offer in the way of Syrah and I like the notion that the wines are closer to home, thus creating a smaller carbon footprint in transport. JC Cellars is a branch off from the famed Fess Parker Pinot producers that is making some good Syrah that I can actually find in Alaska when I want to grab something quickly to bring to a dinner.

Tonight I will be trying something new, I’ll have to share a report with you in my next entry, a Vino V Syrah. Michael Meagher is the producer and I found out about him when researching vineyards that grow heralded Syrah fruit. He and his mentor, Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards, source grapes for their syrah from the White Hawk Vineyard. Adam produces single vineyard syrahs from various vineyards around Santa Barbara as well as his very affordable multi vineyard 2006 Syrah which goes for $22. I recently read an article about him where he vowed not to make wines to suit Robert Parker’s palate. He is moving away from the heavily extracted high alcohol content wines that have received so much acclaim in California-and in turn have influenced winemakers around the world who want to jump on that train-and is working toward creating wines that he would like to drink that have more subtlety and nuance. It’s all so interesting to read about, but I wish I could be there to taste what he means; ditto for all of the winemakers that I have read about and mention.

Maggie Harrison, the aforementioned winemaker for Antica Terra, now based out of the Willamette Valley also sources her fruit from White Hawk and has it mad dashed up to Oregon by truck so that she can produce her Lillian Syrah, named for her Grandmother. Her latest offering for her 2006 went out a couple of weeks ago. If you are interested and are too late to get an allocation, go to the Story Teller Wine Co. website and they have pre-release options listed in their Smart Bottle selection. They also offer Magnums of her 2004 Lillian Syrah.

Maggie used to make wines with another fabled winemaker, Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non. He also sources some of his fruit from the White Hawk Vineyard and just recently began growing his own vineyards of Rhone varietals. This is new for him as he has always bought fruit from growers and created his wines in an industrial space off of an alley in Ventura. I suppose the French purists would call him a garagiste, but he is proof positive that wines are not all in the terroir. It is what is done with those grapes once they are in the hands of a capable winemaker that makes a difference, not to dismiss terroir altogether, but highly acclaimed wines can be made apart from an extravagant estate. I bring up Manfred Krankl because he has worked very hard to set the standard for Rhone wines in California. He produces wines with Syrah, Grenache, Roussane, Viognier and not a drop of Cabernet. Unfortunately his prices have climbed to the level of the cult California Cabs. I have signed up to be on the waiting list of the mailing list and will be very interested in seeing how his offering prices compare with the prices for his wines out on the market.

There is one other person I should probably mention if you are Rhone curious. Randall Graham is the winemaker for Bonny Doon and is credited for beginning the California Rhone wine movement and was given the title Rhone Ranger.
His most acclaimed Rhone is Le Cigare Volant and it contains five Rhone blending grapes, grenache, mourvedre, syrah, cargnane, and cinsault. The 2005 sells for an affordable $32 on his website and if you purchase more than $60 worth of wine, the shipping is free.

I followed through on the Cabot Vineyards offering and ordered the Bacon Fat Syrah for $30/bottle. It is only available on Wine Berserkers, and only one barrel was made, so if you are interested, become a member. The Bacon Fat report will be forthcoming.

Will (it) be pretty, will (it) be rich,
Here’s what (it) said to me…

We shall see,



  1. awesome. i definitely like the idea of singing love songs for wine. and imagining that our food and beverages give us love tributes back as well.

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