Wine Talk

Snooth User: outthere

Focusing on Cool Climate Syrah

Original post by outthere, Dec 17, 2012.

I was going to put this in the Whatcha Drinking Tonight thread. But since there was some Syrah talk going on I thought I'd start a new thread on Cool Climate Syrah.

Tonight I'm visiting a wine I haven't had in since May and wanted to see how it is progressing. It comes from high up atop the Yorkville Highlands in the Anderson Valley  which is in Mendocino County to the NW of Sonoma along the California Coast. Actually the Halcon vineyard is in the coastal range but a good hour drive, 30 minutes down the hill to the highway and 30 minutes west, from the Pacific. It s a unique spot sitting at an elevation of approx 2500' above sea level planted in in a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz rich rock. It erodes into a low vigor soil, the same kind that garner fame to Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone. The heritage bud wood was chosen from select sites in Hermitage and Cote Rotie. It is densely panted forcing the vines to drive their roots deep for nutrients and water. The resulting fruit ripens on lower sugars.

It is one of the highest elevation vineyards in California and is picked in late October just before the first rains hit.

It's an extremely lean site where the temps are buffered by the sea breeze and altitude. The fruit ends up highly mineral, low ph, yet intensely flavored, dark purple and tart.

Tonight I opened a 2009 Halcon Alturas, a wine that will require a major amount of air to open up so initial notes won be very telling. I really like opening young wines and following their progression over the course of multiple days of tasting. The journey is fun for me. Halcon is extremely appealing to me due to its northern Rhone roots and major QPR. Having been to this vineyard I don't know how they manage to keep the price at a mere $20/bottle considering the work it takes just to get the fruit from the farm to the winery. Big kudos to Paul and Valerie Gordon for being so consumer friendly.


The color is deep dark royal purple. The nose has a touch of bread dough with savory blueberry and dried flowers. More to come on subsequent posts.

Feel free to continue this thread with your own versions of cool climate Syrah.





Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 24, 2012.

Thanks for the pronunciation guide, OT.  I think I pronounced it Hal-Kahn several times in your presence without correction--no need to be so polite!  Oddly, although you gave me my first bottle and arranged the purchase, I don't think I ever heard you say the name.  Makes sense, but funny that it's Spanish for a French grape.

LV, hope you are feeling well.  I had a computer problem right after your accident and my message to you never showed up.  I did get a bottle of Basel Syrah from Garagiste--a Mystery Wine--and felt it was worth what I paid, perhaps, but not a huge bargain.  Not a cool climate Syrah at all, so not really my thing.  I think if I get up that way, I'll have to give some more of them a try, but with Halcon, Jemrose, and all the other options down here, I probably won't go searching.

So tonight it's our traditional Xmas eve dinner (my folks host, my kids cash in one last time after the Hannukah gift season), lamb chops are at the center of the meal.  Which means it's perfect for Syrah. Leaning towards either a 2007 Bell Canterbury Block 6 or 2009 Mauritson Rockpile Madrone Spring from here, and maybe a 2004 Jaboulet "Nouvelere" Crozes-Hermitage that I bought from Garagiste a couple years ago that has been evolving pretty interestingly over the last couple bottles.  Time to check in with that last one, perhaps.  (Another part of me is kind of thinking about either CdP or 2004 Aldo Conterno Barolo, but I'm not sure my family wants to go that far afield.)  These are good problems to have.

Reply by outthere, Dec 24, 2012.

Sorry I didn't follow up on the Alturas. Here are my notes:

  • Notes from night 3. Deep dark purple. Nose showing lots of dark fruit, roasted meat and violets. Dense texture with tart blackberry, iron, charcoal and abundant chalky tannins. Took all of 3 days to show its stuff. Still very young but a joy to peek at. Potential to go many years but man is it good right now. If you have 1 hold it. If you have multiples give one a look.

BTW, we had the Esquisto last night and even after opening a day in advance it was hard as nails. Suggest sitting on these.

Reply by WineAnthem, Dec 25, 2012.

I've never had Halcon or whoever. I will say that the cool climate Syrah I had from Wind Gap and especially Arnot Roberts were absolutely stunning and they have single handedly redeemed California wine for me. We're talking 12% alcohol we're talking zing and zest, acid lovers' paradise. How does this one compare?


I keeps it real. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 25, 2012.

NWWA--that's quite the avatar.

Last night we had a Crozes-Hermitage that was trying to be a little bit of a New World wine and a Bell Canterbury Block 6--not coastal at all, it was from the Sierra Foothills, but it's cool there and Easton/Terre Rouge and Edmunds St. John make some real Rhone style syrahs from there.  I thought the Bell was more N. Rhone than the Jaboulet C-H, and I also worried that others might find it too Old World.  But it was definitely the winner with our lamb chops.

Reply by outthere, Dec 26, 2012.

Look them up Wineanthem.  I'm huge Wind Gap Arnot-Roberts fan also. Get on the mailing list they offer pre- release pricing of $20/btl on case purchases.

Reply by EMark, Dec 26, 2012.

OK, I must come back here and add more compliments for Halcon Vineyards.  I haven't received the wine that I ordered, and I am already a Halcon proselytizer.

I "snail mailed" my order to them and have received doting attention from owner Paul Gordon keeping me abreast of my order.  Without going into detail I have to say that he understands customer satisfaction.  As I indicated above, I haven't received my order, yet, but already my expectations have been exceeded.  I cannot remember when a vendor has treated me with so much respect and appreciation.  I am now on their mailing list and can't wait to receive information on new releases.

Reply by Lucha Vino, Jan 28, 2013.

After all the Halcon love on this thread I couldn't resist the offer for a Halcon Alturas magnum vertical on Wine Berserkers today.  I was a bit late for the complete 2009, 2010, 2011 vertical so had to settle for two 2009 magnums and one 2011 magnum (to be bottled in February).

It sounds like I might need to let the 09 chill in the cellar before opening.  What do you all say?

Reply by outthere, Jan 28, 2013.

That was a screaming deal. The 750s of Alturas were really nice out of the gate with minimal air. They have the stuffing to cellar for a few years but I have had trouble keeping my hands off them. The Mags most assuredly will need more time or require lots of air.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 28, 2013.

Over the three day MLK weekend my wife and I went up to Mendocino, stopped off at a few of the Pinot and sparkling joints.  We had lunch in Mendocino and wandered into the wine shop on Main Street where, lo and behold, they had sold out of the Halcon Alturas but still had the Mourvedre.  Had a nice talk with the proprietor about Halcon--folks, stock up now and get on that mailing list, because they will raise prices eventually.  They are getting great press, with word of mouth to match. 

Back in the Bay Area, I found a bottle of Lazy Creek Syrah--they were mostly a pinot and gewurz operation, and sold out to Ferrari Carano.  Looking forward to trying that--it's pretty young (2009) so I might need to decant early.  Also got a bottle of Mendocino Farms Fairbairn Ranch Syrah--they are kind of a negociant so there are not a lot of vintages of this wine or a ton of notes.  Others using the same vineyards include Patianna, whose SB is quite good for Cali SB. 

Pretty soon going to do a taste-off of 2007 Syrahs, a Maclaren, Lagier-Meredith, and Lost Canyon.

Reply by Terence Pang, Jan 28, 2013.

I'm really late to this thread, but what a great post! The level of enthusiasm shown towards a label new to me, Halcon, makes me want to try this! A shame that they do not have an Australian distributor.

Think it was Jon who raised a mention of Australia cool climate shiraz?  This is a slightly tricky topic for our dry, hot continent. (Although the dry bit doesn't hold for Queensland at this moment which is being devastated by a cyclone and flood waters) The issue comes from the definition of "cool climate", and according to the guidelines of the International Cool Climate Wine Show which started in the Mornington Peninsula (circa. 2000), it is dependent on latitude, temperate and to a smaller but more obvious degree, altitude.

The boundaries are: 1) south of latitude 37.5 degrees south, or north of latitude 37.5 degrees north

or 2) from a property in the Southern or Northern hemisphere which has an average January/July (whichever is applicable) temperature below 19ºCelsius, as confirmed by the nearest Bureau of Meterology site,

or 3) vineyard site above 800m in altitude.

Within Australia, these rules mean that the Adelaide Hills region (SA) is not cool climate, and neither are Canberra, ACT  or Orange, NSW. Annoying, because Canberra is home to Clonakilla, my favourite Australian cool-climate shiraz.

A list of (IMO) Australia's best cool climate shiraz producers:

Clonakilla, Canberra region, ACT (Tim Kirk)

Phillip Shaw Wines, Orange, NSW (Phillip Shaw)

Best's Great Western, Bin 0 or Bin 1 shiraz, Great Western region, VIC (Justin Purser)

Paringa Estate, Mornington Peninsula, VIC (Lindsay McCall)

Luke Lambert wines, Yarra Valley, VIC (Luke Lambert)

Geoff Hardy wines, Adelaide Hills, SA (Geoff Hardy)

Moorilla Estate, Tasmania (Conor van der Reest)



Reply by outthere, Jan 28, 2013.

Been away for a while, been very busy on the home front, so I have neglected the forum a bit. Tonight I decided to pop a weeknight bottle for the first time in a month. Grabbed a 2010 Copain Syrah "Les Voisins" Yorkville Highlands/Anderson Valley. This wine is a blend of three first rate vineyards. Halcon, Hawkes Butte down the hill from Halcon and High Rock Ranch which is just down the hill from Hawkes Butte. Wells Guthrie of Copain makes SVD's from Halcon, Hawkes Butte and a private bottling of High Rock Ranch Syrah as well but this one is more mainstream price wise at $31.

Been sitting on 3 of these since release so I figured it was time to take a look at it. The nose is a bit yeasty but also has a kind of Mourvèdre floral aroma that jumps out of the glass. Creamy red and blue fruit, nice round body without a lot of weight, juicy, a bit tart with firm/slightly green tannins. Needs a day to blossom. 13% ABV, nice! 

Wells gets it.


Reply by outthere, Jan 29, 2013.

High Rock Ranch. the vineyard is just beyond the pond.

Looking up from below the pool. Just a gorgeous property.

Hawkes Butte is here somewhere!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 29, 2013.

Well, I was going to thank Terence Pang for giving us an update from Oz, but by the looks of it, OT has been "down under," at least for purposes of taking photos.  Maybe EMark has a minute to put those a-right. 

I do want to thank Terence for that information.  Seems like Oz is coming back around to making exciting wines after a period of being kind of overblown (just my opinion, but the better wine market was turning on them, so someone else was feeling it, too).  With this kind of guidance, I can strongly consider entering Oz in a Cali/N. Rhone tasteoff.

Reply by JonDerry, Jan 29, 2013.

Saw those images just fine on my iphone (those things are smart), but on my desktop a couple are upside down.

Also thought it was "cool" to see Terence chime in on Australia. Maybe I'm still no nearer to buying Australian wine, but at least it's on the brain now.

Nice grab on the vertical, Lucha

Reply by penguinoid, Jan 30, 2013.

With Australian shiraz, the Hunter Valley is also worth some attention. Not exactly cool climate, but the wines tend to be more restrained and earthy than you might expect, and completely different in style to South Australian examples (not to suggest I don't like those!).

I've tried a few very good examples recently. One which stood out was the 2008 De Bortoli Will's Hill Vineyard Shiraz - 12% alcohol, and very savoury and elegant. The winemakers weren't entirely happy with it, as they'd normally prefer to pick at 13% but it just didn't ripen that much that year. I'm not unhappy about this "misfortune".

Other good examples included Tyrrell's Johno Shiraz (if you can find it!) and Tyrrell's Stevens Single Vineyard Shiraz. I also really liked the shirazes from Macquariedale Organic Wines, both the 'regular' and the reserve. There are lots of other good producers I haven't mentioned worth a look to, Andrew Thomas Wines being another.

Interesting comment re Canberra and the Adelaide Hills not officially being cool climate. I tend to think of them as such!

Reply by duncan 906, Jan 30, 2013.

Last year I had a bottle of Paul Jaboulet Aine Cornas which was memorable for its intense concentrated,in your face fruit.I have a bottle of Marc Sorrel Hermitage 2006 in my cupboard and am wondering if that is going to be similar.Most of the American Syrahs mentioned on this thread are not available on this side of the pond

Reply by Terence Pang, Jan 30, 2013.

Just for you guys, I opened a Chapoutier Australian wine from the Pyrenees region of Victoria. A pretty undulating region, and the vineyards here reside at 300-750m in altitude. Michel has purchased land which turned out to be pretty much unplantable because the slope would have made picking too challenging and time consuming.

I started my experience with his Australian wines with the La Pleiade Shiraz which he produced in collaboration with Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill, but the cost and relatively small production might render this label less accessible to some.

The Domaine Tournon wines, on the other hand, are affordable and drinking mighty well. Purchased, $30 from Nick’s Wine Merchants. The wine is aged in French oak barrels for 12 months but a small proportion is aged in tanks to preserve the fresh fruit flavours. Clear, intense dark ruby colour. Clean, youthful nose of blackberry liquor and black plums, a perfume of finely ground blackpepper, a slatered touch of drying beef fillets. A dry, full-bodied wine, the 2010 vintage was dry with warmer than average ripening conditions and partially contribute to the 14% alc. But the purity of the fruit contains that very well, with resolving fine grained tannins that impart a smooth velvet texture to the wine rather than as a major component of the wine. Slightly chewy mouthfeel, rich flavours of blackberry, black cherry, savoury olive tapenade, soft peppery notes. Good length for the after taste. Drink now – 2015. 92/100.

Reply by Terence Pang, Jan 30, 2013.

''I've tried a few very good examples recently. One which stood out was the 2008 De Bortoli Will's Hill Vineyard Shiraz - 12% alcohol, and very savoury and elegant. The winemakers weren't entirely happy with it, as they'd normally prefer to pick at 13% but it just didn't ripen that much that year.'

The 07/08 vintage for the Hunter is one I remember as I was there for a week in February, and it rained every single day.. Lots of rain for the 07 winter and leading into early summer, which was great for everyone. But a bout of rain came through just as everyone was about to harvest the black grapes, hindering ripening and diluting out the sugars. The whites for this vintage weren't bad though.

Reply by penguinoid, Jan 30, 2013.

Yes, I gather 2008 was a very cold year. I don't remember trying any other wines from that particular vintage so can't comment on it in general, but the wine I referenced was very good. I supose you could look on it as a happy accident. It's not a very fruity wine so I could see that some might not like it based on that.

Reply by penguinoid, Jan 30, 2013.

I'd also second Terence Pang's recommendation of Chapoutier's Australian wines. My personal favourite of the ones I've tried was the Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier lieu dit Malakoff.

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