1 - 2006 Neyers Napa Valley Ca - Hudson Vineyards Syrah 89pts
2 - 2004 Burgess Napa Valley Syrah 90pts
3 - 2005 LaTour Vineyards Napa Valley Ca Syrah 88pts
4 - 2006 Alesia Santa Lucia Highlands Ca Fairview Ranch Vineyard Syrah 93pts
5 - 2006 Snoqualmie Columbia Valley Washington State Syrah 73pts
6 - 2006 Luca Laborde Double Select Syrah Uco Valley Mendoza, Argentina 91pts
7 - 2006 Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Estate Syrah 90pts
8 - 2005 Firestone Santa Ynez Valley California Syrah 86pts
9 - 2004 Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Ca Estate Syrah 92pts
10 - 2006 Dry Stack Cellars (aka Grey Stack) Marie’s Block Syrah 94pts
11 - 2006 Grey Stack- Dry Stack Vineyard -The Narcissist Syrah 88pts
12 - 2006 Four Vines Los Alamos Vineyard- One Tree Hill Block Syrah 89pts
While Syrah has a brief history in California it has been fairly widely planted and it seems that there are continuous calls for it to be the next great thing. That’s a pity really as the next great thing implies that Syrah has to be something that it’s not, and done properly it has already done great things.
20 or more years ago folks were producing fine age worthy bottlings of Syrah from vineyards in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, the Santa Cruz mountains, and even Napa. Then something happened. There seemed to be a push for ever-bigger wines.
More sweet fruit and more power may have held a certain appeal at one point but hand in hand with the harvesting of these super mature grapes came steps in the wine making process that easily obscured the wonderful profile of ripe Syrah.
The profile of super ripe Syrah is, however, not so wonderful. The grape seems to very susceptible to loosing it’s distinct character with over-ripeness and easily produces a soupy, darkly fruited mess that has more in common with a Central Valley Grenache than fine Syrah. Add on the need to acidify the wine and then age it in toasty oak to replace the tannins baked out of the grapes and you end up with an anonymous oaky mess that could just as easily have come from Spain as from some of the finest vineyard sites in California.
Fortunately the tide has begun to swing in the wine world. Even those folks intent on producing a huge, powerful Syrah have learned how to dial in the techniques to adapt to each year producing wines with depth, interest and varietal character. More to my liking however are the producers who have opted to let the grape speak more clearly.
Whether it be a fruity simple style or the product of a cooler vineyard these wines are alerting consumers to the greatness that California Syrah can achieve. The bottom like is that we must move away from the idea that only the richest, densest most powerful wine can be the best and embrace an approach that replaces all that brawn and muscle with some simple joy. Some of these wines gave me the same pleasure as a wonderfully ripe apple or perfect slice of Mortadella. Sometime you neither need nor want an ornate apple strudel or intricate carved roast. Sometime you just want things to taste like their raw ingredients, pure and simple.
Flight 1 - Napa Valley Syrah
1 - 2006 Neyers Napa Valley Ca - Hudson Vineyards Syrah 14.1% $40
A nice nose with some sweet, woody spices but also fine plum and slightly candied dark cherry fruit. With air this really picks up a lot of candied ginger though, a touch of game and roasted green herb and sassafras edge are lurking - Very fluid in the mouth, fairly noticeable acids and polished tannins support a big somewhat spicy bitter cherry fruit and root beer toned mid-palate. Rather restrained and almost lean, lets say focused on the backend with a very nice, crisp finish, that reveals a bit of wood tannin splinteriness on the finish. Perhaps a touch simple and with a short finish but fresh and balanced 89pts
2 - 2004 Burgess Napa Valley Syrah 14.7% $20
Floral and meaty with peppercorn, green peppercorn, light sweet wood tones, and a slightly licorice tinged, candied blackberry note. Really nice syrah fruit notes. Big and round and with soft tannins and fine bright acids, a bit of coffee foam on the midpalate but this built on a pure core of dark candied plum and blackberry fruit. Well balanced with some vanilla and dirt adding a touch of complexity. Finishes long and clean with jolly rancher cherry and green apple notes and lingering sapid acidity. Fun, zesty and delicious. 90pts
3 - 2005 LaTour Vineyards Napa Valley Ca Syrah 14.8% $26.50
Deep and earthy with fairly dark toast and oak spice notes then turning plummy with a mineral and eucalyptus top notes. Slowly yields some floral tones and pomegranate notes with a touch of pink peppercorn, but the air doesn’t really helps this as it closes up quite a bit over the course of the tasting. Muscular yet lean with good tension in the mouth and a decidedly dark, earthy and lightly spicy character. There is a core of reticent black plum and minor black berry fruits. With a bit of vanilla on the finish white turns thick and a bit heavy recalling dried dates with a spicy white pepper note on the finish. A bit going at the moment but this seems to have the potential to improve 88pts
Flight 2 - A flight without a theme
4 - 2006 Alesia Santa Lucia Highlands Ca Fairview Ranch Vineyard Syrah 14.25% $60
Very high toned, sweet wood spice, arugula, bitter greens, dark cherry, elegant and lean smelling yet intense with green melon rind and green tobacco notes framing the fruit. Gains a meatier edge with air, yielding a touch of prosciutto and bacon fat and a funky mineral note. Bright and lean in the mouth yet with superb intensity of fruit. Spicy white pepper tinged berry fruit, a transparent feeling with a sense of soil and mineral, chalk with a touch of salt cutting through the hard candy black raspberry/rainier cherry fruit. A bit spicy on the finish with freshness added by the gentle green tones of herb and arugula, and a gentle caress of wood. Very un-Californian but compelling and delicious. Really fine length as well. Could be a bit more complex, perhaps with time, but this is eminently drinkable. 93pts
5 - 2006 Snoqualmie Columbia Valley Washington State Syrah 13.9% - $12
At first very low key but pure wild syrah fruit with a candied cherry top note and a core of violet pastille, yet with air this turns a bit dank and candied with notes of sweet tea, old flowers and tank stink coming to dominate the nose. Soft, flabby and amorphous in the mouth with faded fruit tones and a whiff of vanilla all in a very easy style. 73pts
6 - 2006 Luca Laborde Double Select Syrah Uco Valley Mendoza, Argentina 13.9% $25
Rather restrained with smoky, earthy light toast notes over vanilla tinged raspberry jam with a minor gamy/barnyard edge. Good intensity, modest complexity but more syrah character than some of the other wines here. Nicely gamy notes emerge with a saline edge to them, perhaps a touch of caper as well. Smooth and very polished, really refined and elegant with a bright core of sweet blackberry fruits, judiciously used oak spice, and a lovely high flourish of green herbs, forest floor and anise. Falls a bit on the finish while the tannins build. A nice bit of tarry minerality on the final then a sneaky return of spicy black raspberry completes the finale. Solid and very well made 91pts
Flight 3 - The Santa Ynez Valley, a home for Syrah?
7 - 2006 Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Estate Syrah 15.1% $30
Very fine, almost citrussy with wiry green herbal notes, salted plum, integrated wood tones, floral notes, wiry wild berry fruits a touch of candied watermelon peel and a hint of bell pepper. Really perfumed and balanced with good intensity on the nose. . Slinky, juicy, brambly berry fruit with lots of herbal, citrus rind and green melon rind top notes. Really lovely balance here, holding its alcohol very well. Emerging notes of briary black currant fruit on the mid-palate marry with the wood spice tones well but the acid becomes a bit too prominent. Clean and brisk on the finish with a nice grenadine tone that tapers out for a fairly long time. This is really nice, richly flavored but balanced, transparent and precise but the acid seems a bit out of whack. It’s still a fine wine 90pts
8 - 2005 Firestone Santa Ynez Valley California Syrah 13.5% $18
Grilled meat, and very gamy at first with sweet wood tones in balance, with nuances of black pepper, dried tomato, and big notes of smoke. A touch disjointed, big and rich but with acid poking out right up front, very soft tannins, lots of easy fruit on the mid-palate with a good transparent quality then not a lot of follow through though the tannins, soft as they are, become more obvious on the finish which does have a nice wild cherry/ blackberry candy note. 86pts
9 - 2004 Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Ca Estate Syrah 14.5% $20
Spicy fruit and oak tones intermingle. On the nose with same old coffee, violets, green peppercorn and herbaceous tones all framing the very fresh and high toned plum and wild berry fruit. There is sweet/savory tension here and the nuances continue to reveal themselves with notes of cedar, mint, earth, cola and roast meat tones. Very pretty and with good intensity to the rich and juicy core of bright, piercing fruit. The acid is fairly high but very well integrated in the fleshy fruit. Great mouthfeel. Plenty of plummy fruit with a touch of drying tannin that would benefit from a year or so in the cellar and lovely orange rind and incipient black olive background notes on the palate that really push the slightly earthy, astringent red berry fruit out with it’s contrast. Fresh and pure this is wonderful syrah 92pts
Flight 4 - A couple of classic Californian Bruisers
10- 2006 Dry Stack Cellars (aka Grey Stack) Dry Stack Vineyard Bennett Valley Ca- Marie’s Block Syrah 15.5% $40
Tight and dark with coffee bean, reticent baked black cherry, oak spice, herb, mint and sharp mineral notes but so reticent this is tight, Tight, TIGHT. Big and polished with a lovely sweetness in the mouth which is cut by the good acid and surprising mineral edge. Tight on the palate as well this is actually very elegant if large scaled and showing just a touch of heat. The core of big, grapy fruit remains coy but one sees glimpses of its freshness and depth. This has great balance and a layered feel that leads to a long finish with pure spicy loganberry fruit and a fine mineral finale. This needs 2-3 years but looks like it’s going to rock. 94pts
11 - 2006 Grey Stack- Dry Stack Vineyard - Bennett Valley Ca The Narcissist Syrah 15.8% $48
Deep, dark fruit, a touch more coffee grinds, cocoa, vanilla, oak spice, and peppercorn than the last wine but also a damp clay and forest floor tone. Also tight and closed with just a bit of a candied black berry fruit tone on the nose. Big and rich with great acidity and incipient herbal top notes offering contrast to the rich, brambly black berry fruit. Powerful and feeling a touch extracted this has the power and depth of your typical fruit bomb but is much better behaved in the mouth. Lots of very intense fruit is paired with lots of oak and while the finish is very long it is also very woody and tannic with a muddied quality that obscures the fruit. Not my style but for those you enjoy this sort of opacity this is well balanced. Give it a year or 2 in the cellar 88pts
12 - 2006 Four Vines Santa Barbara County Ca Los Alamos Vineyard- One Tree Hill Block Syrah 14.8% $36
This smells intense and yet restrained a bit of an unusual combo. A bit of creosote develops with airing, joining the clovy, jammy fruits but then this does blossom offering up a complex array of aromas ranging from herbal and floral to medicinal and gamy with notes of dried peach and green walnut even. This is strangely appealing, smells a bit like Christmas. Very relaxed in the mouth, virtually no tannin but enough structure to give this decent presence in the mouth. Deeply fruited but not vulgar with its dark toast, and licorice tones contrasting with the red berry fruit with it’s candied edge. The texture is a bit too creamy for me and the finish is a touch short but still a solid wine 89pts
See all the wines in the PTP1 Syrah Group here
and follow the discussion about the wines here;
PTP1 - Syrah
- Reply by hhotdog, Jul 12, 2010.
syrah is a old fav of mine...tend to come back to it when a bit bored with same old thing? had the burgess and enjoy it. great price and great grape!
- Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 13, 2010.
amazing review on these wines.... Thanks Greg!
how are you enjoying your time here in the Golden State?
- Reply by John Andrews, Jul 13, 2010.
Hey Greg ... there are doing some great syrahs in Sonoma these days. Yes, I know I am biased but that is my thing here, right?
Russian River has emerged as great location because of the cooler climate. Try some from my 'hood when you get a chance.
- Reply by dmcker, Jul 14, 2010.
Greg, I think it would be a valuable resource if there were a central Snooth compilation of all your reviews and tasting notes, researchable by varietal or region or... Not each wine on its own, which is now possible and way too time consuming to try to chase down, but all in one bank of reviews from past threads and articles and any other reviews that didn't make it into either. Maybe accessible from the Forum menu, as 'GDP Tasting Notes', or what have you? I want ot look up all the syrahs you've reviewed? Then I end up at one URL, after clicking a couple times off the menu....
- Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 14, 2010.
Good point. Let me see if there is way to get this done.