Guest Post: 2014 Rhone Rangers Tasting: Spotlight On Syrah

The Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting is a huge event, with far too many wines for me to get through.  While I chose to focus on Grenache, I thought it would be great to also get a sense of Syrah.  I love Syrah – especially “cool-climate” style. So today, I’m thrilled to bring you some bonus coverage of the event by featuring Cyrus Limón (a.k.a. Mr. Syrah) from sólosyrah

Syrah, especially “cool-climate” Syrah, is Cyrus’ thing, and I trust his palate.  

Take it away Cy…


By Cyrus Limón

The 2014 Rhone Rangers Bay Area Tasting: Spotlight on Syrah

Umm, yes, I’d like to taste some wine with this view.

The annual Bay Area Rhone Rangers tasting is a great way for me to get a sense of the state of Syrah in California. Although it’s usually missing some of my favorite Syrah producers like Peay, Arnot-Roberts, and Failla it still has a growing cadre of cool-climate Syrah aficionados that make it a great place to check in on Syrah. This year’s tasting was my favorite so far. The location at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond was beautiful and the wineries were spread out well to allow for a lot of elbow room and a lot of face-to-face contact with winemakers. The crowd wasn’t too big (great for those of us there, but maybe not for the wineries) and although there were a few noticeably inebriated people there seemed to be less general drunkenness than in previous years.


The beautiful Craneway Pavilion in the Richmond Marina

It’s nice to have a plan when going into big events like this and for me the plan was to taste a lot of Syrah. I checked in with the handful of producers that are doing Syrah in the style I appreciate but was also keen to find some new producers doing a cooler-climate style.

Here’s a list and brief description of wines that I tasted at this year’s Rhone Rangers that most represent the lower alcohol, cooler climate style that I love some much. The wines below are organized by the order in which I tasted them.

Kieran Robinson Wines

I’ve written about this wine before but Kieran Robinson’s 2010 Bennett Valley Vivio Syrah is a great example of elegant Syrah. The wine has mid-palate lift and some great olive and red fruit aromas. The 2009 was a bigger wine from the same vineyard with more of a meaty chocolate profile. The ’11 just got bottled and will come in at about 13.3% ABV and the 2012 at 14.3% ABV. Kieran says that this type of vintage variation is common in Bennett Valley; you pick it when it’s ripe.

Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge in an old Syrah house that wasn’t on my radar until last year’s Rhone Rangers event. Bill Easton makes spectacular Syrahs from special spots in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. His lower end wines tend to see less oak and are made for easier drinking with an emphasis on fruit and lower tannins. His higher end Syrahs are more tannic and see a lot more new oak and are meant to age.

The 2010 Les Cotes de l’Quest was actually my favorite from the tasting because of that judicious use of oak and had a bright and pure fruit profile.

The 2008 DTR Ranch is their estate wine and sees a little more new oak. The oak was mostly in check and the Syrah flavors came through nicely.

The 2008 Sentinel Oak was a much “bigger” wine with more tannins on the finish and more new oak. It’s still got great acidity though and I’m sure this is the kind of Syrah that could age for a long time (and already has) but for me I just would have liked to see the oak dialed back a tad.

The 2008 Ascent is that vintage’s example of their flagship wine. This wine spends 24 months in new oak. It had more of a blue fruit profile. I think this is a good wine for this style but again I think the new oak could be dialed back.

Although there’s no question in my mind that these are well-made Syrahs, my question is why not let the pure fruit aromas come through more on the higher end wines keeping the new oak in check?

Two Shepherds

I love checking in on William’s wines and this was one of the few wineries where I tasted through all the wines. The whites were tasting beautifully and William’s curent release of reds seemed even more cohesive at this juncture then the last time I tasted them.

William does have a yet-to-be-released 2012 Saralee’s Vineyard Syrah that he let me taste off to the side. I really like this Syrah (especially after the Terre Rouge wines) because it only sees neutral oak so it’s a great example of how a completely unadulterated Syrah picked at low alcohol levels can bring forth the true character of the varietal. This wine is young and had just been opened so it was full of mouth-filling acidity but also really delicious fresh fruit character. It’s an elegant Syrah that sets itself apart because of its core of acidity. I can’t wait to taste it in about 6 months to see how it continues to evolve in bottle.

Fields Family Wines

Going from William’s Syrah with it’s bracing acidity to Ryan Sherman’s easy-drinking Lodi Syrah was a study in contrast. I won’t go on too much about them here because I’ve only recently done a blog post on them but I do want to say again I am struck by how Ryan achieves fresh fruit character in his wines in Lodi. Yes they are riper styles of Syrah but these are not big vanilla and blue fruit Syrahs. His judicious use of oak, well-timed picking decisions and the cooler site along the Mokelumne River Valley allow the wines to maintain a true Syrah character.


The affable Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Winery

Donelan Wines

I hadn’t checked in with Donelan since Tyler Thomas had moved on (link) and it was nice to meet new winemaker Joe Nielsen. Most of the Donelan wines aren’t exactly cool-climate but I was struck by their judicious use of new oak and a nice core of acidity that carried through all the Syrahs.

The 2011 Cuvee Christine is Donelan’s blend from different vineyards and is meant to illustrate the potential for Syrah in Sonoma County. It’s a nice fresh style of Syrah. Not too complex and intensely food friendly.

The 2011 Walker Hill, which I’d had before, was also well done with nice fresh fruit elements and surprising acidity.

The 2011 Richards (which was being poured at small samples off to the side) also showed enjoyable Syrah savory aromas and freshness even after spending 30 months in barrel.

Clos Saron

It was a pleasure to spend some time with Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron. He’s the type of person I think I could sit and talk to for hours and someday I hope to get a chance to do just that at his winery in the Sierra Foothills. If you want to learn a lot more about the Clos Saron project then you’ve got to check out this excellent podcast with Levi Dalton.

All of Gideon’s Syrahs were great but I did get a common thread in the aroma profile that was both perplexing and alluring. The closest I can come to describing it is that it was almost like the aroma of a root beer candy, maybe mixed with a tootsie roll. I asked Gideon if he got any common thread of aroma through all the Syrah and although he didn’t say yes he did say that it was possible.  Gideon mentioned that it could be the native yeast from the winery and then he laughed and told me that possibly it was just his own stinky feet. (Gideon makes the wine in an old world style and still foot stomps the grapes.)  Regardless of how that interesting aroma got in there it’s clear it’s become part of the “terrior” of the Syrah.

The 2011 Stone Soup Syrah and 2009 Heart of Stone both had great cool-climate profile with savory aromas and a nice acidic core. The 2005 Heat of Stone was a bit more extracted and a riper style which Gideon attributed to an over exuberance on his part at this time of his winemaking career to extract big fruit and flavor from the grapes. He now works the grapes less (less punchdowns, less maceration) to make his wines more elegant and less “new world” in profile.

MacLaren Wine Company

I also checked in with Steve Law to get a chance to taste one of my favorite Syrahs, the 2010 Judge Family Bennett Valley Syrah. I think Steve did a great job with this wine and I’m always impressed with it’s freshness and aromas of salted plum and olive. It’s always a treat to taste.

Qupé Winery

Now these were the wines of the tasting for me.

As I mentioned before, this year’s event was less overwhelming than the previous years and I was thrilled to see that there was some space at the Qupe table for me to actually talk with Bob Lindquist and fawn over his Syrahs. I’d recently had a corked Qupe and one that was hopelessly infected with Brettanomyces so I was thrilled to get a chance to wash away those bad experiences with what I was hoping was some great Syrah.

I started off with the 2011 Bien Nacido Vineyard and boy was it tasting good. Elegant, floral, peppery and bright with a well-structured mid palate this was a delicious example of a classic site for Syrah.

The next wine was an iteration of Qupe’s famed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. The 2011 Sawyer Lindquist “Sonnies” is an homage to Bob Lindquist’s mother and is a selection of the best blocks from the vineyard and the best barrels from those blocks. This wine was tasting spectacular. It had that perfect combination of cool-climate characteristics mixed with rich and delicious mid-palate and an elegant finish.

The 2011 X Block Bien Nacido was also floral and elegant and tasting very much in balance at this moment.

It was a happy moment for me to taste these wines and get to talk with Bob Lindquist to extoll the virtues of cool climate Syrah. At one point Steve Law came over from MacLaren and the three of us geeked out on French Syrah and how food-friendly it is.


Two generations of cool-climate Syrah lovers meet for the first time: Steve Law and Bob Lindquist

Lagier Meredith Vineyard

I love to check in with Stephen and Carole’s deliciously graceful Napa Syrah. This is a full wine but it’s light on it’s feet at the same time. The 2011 Syrah, Mount Veeder had a classic cool-climate Syrah black olive disposition with a full mid-palate. Again, this is a Syrah that shows that judicious use of oak and smart picking decisions can create an elegant Syrah in an area known for bigger wines.

Skylark Wine Company

I finished the day checking in with a relatively newer winery because I noticed that they had a Rodger’s Creek Syrah which is a cool-climate site near the Petaluma Gap and Carneros. The 2009 Rodgers Creek was a beautiful Syrah, peppery and bright with beautiful elegance. Another winery to get to know more and a style that I hope they stick with.

All in all, I’d say that there are more wineries attempting to make Syrah in a more floral, peppery, savory style; less blocky and big and overly brawny. Few wineries have gone all in on that style and some of my favorite Syrahs from the cooler vintages of 2010 and 2011 have climbed up in ripeness and alcohol level for 2012 and 2013 when the vintages were warmer so it’s hard to say if there’s really a stylistic shift or not. I’m heartened by many of my talks with winemakers who agree with me that Syrah doesn’t need to be jammy and oaky but then they admit that in order to please the general consumer they generally offer Syrahs that are bigger and riper to round out their portfolios. And maybe this is indeed the future of Syrah, that we just have to get comfortable with the fact that it comes in different styles and that consumers appreciate both styles.

As long as the cooler-climate styles stick around then I’m comfortable with that.

Here’s to Cool Climate Syrah – Rhône On Cyrus!


About Cyrus Limón: Is a wine enthusiast devoted to extolling the virtues of cool-climate Syrah. He’s relatively new to the “wine thang” as I refer to it, but he’s dived headlong into it the last few years.  He started where virtually all wine enthusiasts start, with fruity wines. But his wine journey has lead him to perfect a palate for cool-climate Syrah. You can follow Cyrus on twitter @solosyrah


Wine of the Week; 2009 Tercero Syrah Larner Vineyard

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2009 Tercero Syrah Larner Vineyard.

The Winery

Tercero Vineyards is located in Los Olivos, California.  Larry Schaffer is the owner/winemaker.  Schaffer left a successful career in publishing to pursue his dream of becoming a winemaker.  He earned a degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.  Thereafter he got winemaking career started as an enologist at Fess Parker Winery.  While at Fess Parker he started Tercero.

I first meet Larry a couple of years ago at one of my favorite events – Dark & Delicious. Initially, he caught my attention because he was aerating his wines in Erlenmeyer flasks rather than traditional decanters.  I thought – How cool is that (note to self – buy some lab beakers; they cost less and work as well!)?

I tried his wines, and came away impressed.

Since then, I’ve tasted his wines at a few other events, and continued to be impressed. The wines are worthy of attention, and reasonably priced (the reds are $30, the whites are $22!). On top of that, Larry is hard-working, down-to-earth, passionate, and very affable guy in my book.  And that matters to me.

Tercero Wines offers a range of wines including varietal bottlings of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, a red Rhône blend, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Rosé, and a dry Gewürztraminer. All wines are bottled under screwcap (extra points in my book!) Annual case production is about 1,250 cases.

The wines are worth seeking out, and if you get a chance, I heartily recommend a visit to the winery!

Wine of the Week; 2009 Tercero Syrah Larner Vineyard

Larry Schaffer of Tercero Vineyard. Image courtesy of Santa Barbara County Vintners Association

The Wine

Tercero sources the fruit for this wine from the Larner Vineyard, located in newly anointed Ballard Canyon AVA in the Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County.

The vineyard and wines produced from Larner Vineyard have garnered a tremendous amount of attention from leading reviewers, and wine publications. Leading wineries that purchase grapes and produce wines from the Larner Vineyard include Jaffurs, Herman Story, Paul Lato, Bonaccorsi, and many others.  In addition to Syrah, Tercero also sources Grenache from the vineyard.

The wine is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier that were co-fermented. The Viognier give the wines an aromatic lift.  It was aged for 42 months in older French oak barrels.

Wine of the Week; 2009 Tercero Syrah Larner Vineyard

Wine of the Week; 2009 Tercero Syrah Larner Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Carmine color with aromatic incense, mixed berry, baked cherry, brown sugar and cedarwood aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, vibrant and well structured with a supple texture.  It shows blackberry, blueberry, red and red currant flavors. Medium-long finish. SRP – $30; 100 cases produced; 14.4% alcohol

Rating: A-: A wonderful example of a cool-climate Syrah!

Pair with:  Seafood pasta dishes, chicken satay, chicken tikka masala, lamb, or Moroccan vegetable stew.

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine of the Week; 2009 Zotovich Cellars Estate Syrah

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2009 Zotovich Cellars Estate Syrah.


Zotovich Cellars is a small (they produce about 1,700 cases of wine annually) family operated winery producing 100% Santa Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay & Viognier.   The partners in the winery are the owner Steve Zotovich, and his nephew Ryan Zotovich who is the Winemaker.

Wine of the Week; 2009 Zotovich Cellars Estate Syrah

Steve & Ryan Zotovich (Vineyard Owner/Partner & Winemaker/Partner) – Image courtesy of Zotovich Cellars

I was introduced to Zotovich Cellars when we visited the Lompoc Wine Ghetto in April last year.  We had the good fortune of Pete Zotovich pouring for us.  The day we visited they were pouring this wine along with their Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, and Reserve Pinot Noir. It was a close call, between this wine and their Reserve Pinot Noir, but I picked up this bottle of wine.

The Wine

One hundred percent of the grapes crushed into Zotovich wine are grown on their 35-acre Zotovich estate vineyard located off Route 246, between Melville and Foley.  The Santa Rita Hills AVA  is exposed to fog and coastal breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The hills run east to west, which allows cool ocean breezes from the Pacific to enter the hills and create a cool micro-climate. As such, this is considered to be a “cool-climate” Syrah. Cool climate Syrah smells, and tasted different that its warm weather counter-parts.  They typically have higher levels of acidity and freshness.

While the wine was fermenting, it was punched down three times daily. Following primary fermentation, free run juice was extracted, barreled down and then the skins were gently pressed to extract the remaining wine.  Thereafter, the wine underwent malolactic fermentation before being bottled.

2009 Zotovich Family Estate Syrah

2009 Zotovich Family Estate Syrah

My tasting note follows:

Violet color with roasted dark fruit, pepper, and hints of fig and espresso aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-full-bodied, and nicely balanced with great acidity, supple tannins, and baked plum, pepper, and black currant flavors. Medium -Long finish. – 91 pts

Rating: Highly recommended. This wine is a great example of a “cool climate” Syrah.

Pair with:  This is a very food friendly wine in my book. Pair with lamb, sausages, chili con carne, venison, and hearty stews!

The Wine Geek Stuff:

Wine purchased for review

Related post you might enjoy:

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff!  Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine Of The Week: 2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins

My Wine Of The Week for October 13 – October 19 is the 2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins.

The Winery

Copain Winery was founded by winemaker Wells Guthrie in 1999.  The winery sits atop a hillside with an astounding view of the Russian River Valley.  As I looked out over the valley on gorgeous Indian summer day, I was struck with a sense of tranquility I can still vividly recall!

View of the Russian River Valley from Copain Winery

View of the Russian River Valley from Copain Winery

According to the Copain website…

Wells Guthrie discovered early on that his taste in wine gravitated toward Europe in general and France’s Rhône Valley in particular. So much so, he picked up and moved with his new bride to the region to learn from the best. For two years, Wells apprenticed for esteemed winemaker and living legend Michel Chapoutier in France’s Rhone Valley. During that time, Wells was deeply inspired by the traditions and practices of French winemaking, not to mention the European attitude that wine is an essential part of life.

Mr Guthrie started the winery with an old friend, and named it Copain, which means ‘friend” in French.  Copain is focused on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir,and Syrah.  They also produce a Rose, and an interesting, food friendly and outstanding wine named “P2” which is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. They offer three lines of wines, the entry-level “Tous Ensembles”, mid-level “Les Voisins”, and their top of the line “Single Vineyard” Wines.

Their beautiful tasting room, located in Healdsburg, is open to the public Thursday through Saturday from 10:30 AM to 4 PM, and by appointment only Sunday through Wednesday. There is a $15 tasting fee, which is waived with the purchase of wine.  They also offer a seasonal “Picnic Pairing” tasting option, where you taste three wines chosen by Copain to pair with a picnic lunch from Chloe’s French Cafe for $35.

The Wine

I picked up this wine a few weeks back when my wife and I went to Sonoma to attend the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival.  We drove up on a Friday, and visited several wineries.  Copain was easily the winery of the day!

This wine is a blend of grapes from 3 neighboring vineyards in the cool-climate Yorkville Highlands AVA in Mendocino County.  The vineyards are planted on a rocky hillsides which rise from 600 to 2500 feet elevation. Guthrie uses whole cluster fermentation for 30% of the wine and does not use new wood for ageing.

2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins

2009 Copain Syrah Les Voisins

We picked up several bottles of wine when we visited. I’m a sucker for cool-climate Syrah, but all the wines we tasted were elegant and well-balanced. I highly recommend the winery…and next time we go, we’re going to have that picnic tasting!

My tasting notes follow:

Opaque black-red color with aromatic mixed berry, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, well-balanced and elegant with fresh acidity and black cherry, raspberry, and mineral flavors. Medium-long finish! – 91pts


Highly recommended!  This is a world-class Syrah for $36!

The Wine Geek Stuff:

Alcohol: 13.9% alcohol.

Closure: Cork.

AVA: >CaliforniaNorth Coast>Yorkville Highlands

Varietal(s): 100% Syrah

Cooperage: Neutral Oak

Retail: $36

Cases produced: Unknown


Wine of the Week: 2007 Breggo Syrah

My wine of the week for May 19-May 25 is the 2007 Breggo Cellars Syrah

The Winery

Breggo Cellars is located in the City of Booneville in Anderson Valley AVA, which is north (about 70 miles) of Napa Valley in Mendocino County.  It is owned by Cliff Lede (pronounced “LAY-dee”) of the Cliff Lede Vineyards and Poetry Inn in Napa Valley, where Lede has been very successful producing Bordeaux varietal wines.

As the saying goes “Great wine starts in the vineyard”.  And a great vineyard, start with having the grape varietal best suited for the location of the vineyard.  Breggo is focused on varietals that do well in cool climate Anderson Valley – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Syrah.

The Wine

I purchased this wine at the Cliff Lede last year.  This is a “cool climate” Syrah.  So what’s the difference between a “cool climate”, and a “warm climate” Syrah?  Generally speaking, Syrah grown in warm climate locations ripens more easily, and will showcase riper (perhaps jammy) fruit flavors like blueberry, black-cherry and raspberry.Warm climate Syrah often have higher alcohol, owing to the higher sugar levels associated with easier ripening.  It’s that higher alcohol that can give the wine the perception of being more full-bodied.  On the other hand, cool-climate Syrah tends to be lower in sugar and higher in acidity since ripening can be more challenging.  They tend to be more aromatic, showing more red fruit flavors as cherries, plums, along with peppery notes.  Cool climate wines also tend to manifest a more restrained (lighter-bodied) style.

My tasting notes follow:

Medium garnet color with lifted aromas of dark mixed berries, oak, cloves, smoked meat, and minerals. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, focused and well-balanced with nervy acidity, supple tannins, and mixed dark berries, cassis, and sweet mineral flavors. Long finish. 13.7% alcohol. A cool climate Syrah that’s drinking beautifully!

Recommendation:  This is an excellent Syrah, and definitely worth seeking out, if can find it (Breggo doesn’t make this wine anymore – Their current Syrah offering is the single vineyard Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah – Suggested Retail – $55).

Hmmm…It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been up to Anderson Valley…I think it’s time another visit, and Breggo is on my list!

Details:  13.7% alcohol.  Cork closure.  AVA: Anderson Valley. Varietal: Syrah. Suggested Retail – $30 USD