Small Batch Syrah

Today’s Story: Lillian Winery

This should be a fairly short and easy read today, as I already talked about the history of Lillian Winery in my post Sensual Syrah a few weeks back. Long story short, Maggie Harrison worked with the Krankl family at Sine Qua Non, and Manfred Krankl encouraged her to start her own Syrah endeavor. Lillian was born in 2004 from that encouragement.

The wine I reviewed several weeks ago was a 2013 Lillian Syrah, while today’s wine is the 2013 Gold Series Syrah. While the two wines are obviously similar in style and overall profile, the Gold Series is a smaller production bottling which Maggie says comes from “a small number of barrels that speak with a different voice.” In other words, the Gold Series comes from barrels with completely different expressions than the rest of the wine bottled as the Syrah. While Maggie will blend some of these barrels with the main Syrah to add complexity, she bottles them on their own to portray a wine that is “singularly exquisite.”

Today’s Wine: 2013 Lillian Syrah Gold Series No. 03

100% Syrah; 14.4% ABV

With the 2013 Lillian Syrah still fresh in my head from a few weeks ago, I thought it would be very interesting to open this Gold Series for comparison. Based on the youth of this wine and my experience with the 2013 Syrah recently, I decanted this bottle for five hours. The wine is deep, opaque purple in color with moderate staining on the glass. On the nose I get aromas of plum, cassis, mint, cinnamon, crushed stone, and loamy earth. Once in the mouth, the wine boasts flavors of blueberry, black cherry, rocky soil, granite, and smoke. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, surprisingly refined yet medium tannins, and a long, bold finish. Much like the standard Syrah, I’m excited to try this one again in another five years.

Price: $100. Again, due to Maggie’s history with Syrah, the precision of her wines, and the rarity of these bottlings this is worth the price. Pair this with a leg of lamb, bbq ribs, or a burger.

Cult Cali Pinot

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.

They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.

Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.

Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different wines from Williams Selyem (both red and white) but this is my first from the famous Ferrington Vineyard. Today’s Pinot is pale/medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of dried strawberry, crushed cranberry, mint, aged leather, gravelly road after a rainstorm, and a hint of oak. The palate showcases notes of ripe red raspberry, strawberry jam, cinnamon, lightly scorched earth, and slate. Medium-bodied with medium (+) bright acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long mouthwatering finish.

Price: $100, getting up there with the Kosta Browne I reviewed about two weeks back. This is an exceptional quality Pinot that I highly recommend (I love every wine I’ve had from them), though there are some great options for half the price. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or charcuterie.

“This Blessed Plot, This Earth…”

Today’s Story: Realm Cellars

Realm Cellars was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Co-Founder Juan Mercado left his role as a hospital administrator in San Francisco to pursue working in the wine industry and, until recently, Realm sourced their fruit from historical, high-quality vineyards (like Dr. Crane, To Kalon, and Farella) rather than growing their own. Juan runs the winery with Managing Partner Scott Becker, they have an excellent winemaker in Benoit Touquette, and Michel Rolland consults.

Switching gears, one of my favorite aspects of Realm (more a “that’s really cool” kind of thing) is their inspiration from Shakespeare. For example, the title of this blog post starts the line “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, a line noted on every bottle of Realm wine, on their corks, and highlighted on the label I am reviewing today. Realm’s Bordeaux blends include The Tempest, named for the violent storm and play thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last; Falstaff, named for the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight present in four of Shakespeare’s plays for comic relief; and of course The Bard, named for Shakespeare himself. Each wine highlights a particular variety, ranging from Merlot to Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.

As far as their single vineyard wines go, Realm produces Farella (100% Cab), Houyi (100% Cab), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane (95% Cab, 5% Petit Verdot), Beckstoffer To Kalon (100% Cab), Moonracer (Cab dominant blend), and a white wine called Fidelio (Sauvignon Blanc). As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, recently Realm started producing wine from their own fruit which is where Moonracer comes in. This wine comes from their vineyard on Wappo Hill in the Stags Leap District and is named for the Wappo Native Americans who were known for bravery, strength, and athleticism. The Wappos often took part in (and are said to have won most) inter-tribal races during a full moon, hence the name Moonracer.

Note: Realm also makes a highly limited blend only in certain vintages called The Absurd, but be ready to pay $600-$750 per bottle for a chance to taste it.

Today’s Wine: 2016 The Bard

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot; 14.6% ABV

As expected due to its young age, this wine is deep, opaque purple in color and almost black at its core. I double decanted this bottle due to its youth and let it breath for about an hour. On the nose are aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, cigar box, pepper, chocolate, and crushed stone. In the mouth, the palate consists of flavors of black fruit, licorice, smokey earth, violet, dark chocolate, and a touch of ground coffee. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, and a very long, concentrated finish. I definitely committed infanticide with this one, but wanted to try it and will definitely buy more. Give it at least 5-7 more years but drink over the coming decades.

Price: $150. While not an everyday drinking price, this bottle is well worth its tag. Already at such a young age this is drinking with finesse, elegance, and balance that is hard to find. Pair this with filet mignon or ribeye.

Why Wait for Screaming Eagle?

Today’s Story: Jonata

Jonata came onto my radar in unlikely fashion about two years ago, as these wines very rarely call retail stores home. I sat on the Screaming Eagle waitlist twiddling my thumbs for the chance to purchase an allocation (I am still waiting), and I received an email that their sister winery, Jonata, had offerings for purchase. I quickly discovered that Stan Kroenke, owner of Screaming Eagle and the LA Rams, owns Jonata as well and since their wines are highly regarded began seeking some out.

Jonata’s vines are planted in the Santa Ynez Valley on California’s Central Coast, and although Kroenke bought 586 acres of property only 84 acres are planted under vine. Like many wineries in the area, Jonata found success planting Rhône varietals such as Syrah but also grows Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals. As far as soil goes, the entire Jonata property is sand (specifically Careaga Sandstone) which is known to be highly aerative with low water holding capacity and therefore low fertility for fruit. However, thanks to their adept winemaker Matt Dees, Jonata is able to produce exceptional wines and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ballard Canyon appellation.

On the topic of quality, Jonata in their words seeks to become “the vanguard of an emerging quality movement in California winegrowing.” Great care is put into their vineyards and the winemaking process, resulting in a relatively small production of about 4,725 cases per year across 8 wines (2,426 cases being their Todos red blend). Sustainability is also a major point of focus for the winery, integrating livestock (chicken, turkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep) into the farming model to naturally enhance the soil. Jonata also maintains a communal garden and an orchard that produces olive oil and honey from bees raised on the ranch. Source: https://www.jonata.com/.

Today’s Wine: 2005 El Corazón de Jonata

41% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.9% ABV

Our wine today is a very deep, opaque purple color with ruby variation toward the rim of the glass. We let this slow ox in the bottle for about 30 minutes before additional air-time in the glass, as it was still slightly tight as a pop-and-pour. On the nose are enticing aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, red berry fruit, cigar box, sweet tobacco, licorice, and oak. Once in the mouth, we get notes of jammy blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, graphite, smokey/charred earth, and a touch of chocolate. Opulent and showing no signs of age, today’s Jonata is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, mature medium tannins, and a long finish that lingers with notes of iron.

Price: $65. I think this is a little high (I’d love to see ~$50) but still worth a try due to its rarity and complexity with plenty of gas left in the tank. We paired this with smokey barbecue chicken, but I think this would also stand up well to a New York Strip.

Sensual Syrah

Today’s Story: Lillian Winery

Lillian came to fruition in 2004 with their inaugural release of Syrah. The winemaker, Maggie Harrison, worked as assistant winemaker for Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non (think $200-$1,000 bottles of cult Rhone varietals) when he encouraged her to begin producing her own Syrahs. With grapes coming from the White Hawk Vineyard, Maggie bottled 150 cases of her 2004 Syrah and, though I have not had that vintage, the several vintages I’ve had since clearly reflect on her experiences at Sine Qua Non.

Over time Lillian grew from 150 cases and, although still small, sources grapes from White Hawk Vineyard, Stolpman Vineyards, Bien Nacido Vineyards, and now Cabernet Sauvignon from True Vineyard on Howell Mountain. Additionally, Maggie makes Lillian Roussanne from Stolpman Vineyards. Each vineyard offers different character to her Syrah (White Hawk is sandy soil producing dark fruit personality, Stolpman is calcareous soil producing brighter fruit but more tannin structure, and Bien Nacido is cooler producing smokier and floral notes with higher acidity and tannin) and when they come together produce a very elegant wine.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Lillian Syrah

100% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

Looking at today’s wine in the glass, we have a purple/ruby color that is not as opaque as many Syrahs that I’ve had. Without a decanter, I let this slow ox for a couple hours before drinking, which helped open the wine from my initial pop and pour taste. On the nose we have elegantly intertwined aromas of blackberry, black cherry, violets, wet gravel, and ground coffee. I could smell this wine all day without taking a sip. Once in the mouth, we get flavors of blueberry, black fruit, cola, black pepper, and a hint of oak and tobacco. Full-bodied like most California Syrah, today’s Lillian shows moderate acidity and dusty, refined tannins into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. Considering Maggie Harrison’s history with Syrah and how beautiful and elegant this bottle is, I think this is well worth a try. Adding how difficult it can be to find a bottle of Lillian, this is a must-try. Pair this with a leg of lamb or lighter, slightly smokey barbecue.