Fun Santa Barbara County Syrah

Today’s Story: Black Sheep Finds

Black Sheep Finds (Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic) is a family owned and operated winery established by husband and wife Peter Hunken and Amy Christine in 2003 in Lompoc, California. Peter began his winemaking career in 2001 with Stolpman Vineyards, and also co-founded Piedrasassi where he remained until shifting all his attention to Black Sheep Finds in 2008. Amy has an impressive wine resume as well, earning the Master of Wine designation in 2013 and working with Kermit Lynch in Southern California.

Until 2015, Peter and Amy sourced all fruit for their wines from organically farmed vineyards in Santa Barbara County. In 2016, however, they completed the first harvest in their own estate vineyard named The Joy Fantastic which they began developing in 2014. The Joy Fantastic Vineyard is certified organic (CCOF) and consists of 5 acres planted to Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, though Black Sheep Finds does continue to work with select vineyard partners as well. The partners include Bien Nacido Vineyard (where they source Roussanne), Presqu’ile Vineyard (where they source small amounts of Syrah), and John Sebastiano Vineyard (where they source Syrah for Holus Bolus).

Today’s Wine: 2017 Holus Bolus Franc de Pied Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Franc de Pied Syrah is opaque medium to deep purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blueberry, black cherry, plum, violet, pine, pepper, underbrush, and light smoke. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, black plum, forest floor, purple florals, cracked pepper, and gravel. A delightful wine overall, this is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $28 (averages closer to $40). For $28 I paid, I think this is a great value. It’s no doubt a young wine, but is certainly approachable right now and honestly I don’t think this will be incredibly long-lived. Even if found closer to $40, I think this is worthy of try.

Everyday Drinking Syrah

Today’s Story: The Paring

I previously wrote about The Paring when I reviewed their 2015 Red Blend, but I wanted to revisit the brand for the Syrah today.

The Paring is like a “little sister” to Jonata and The Hilt, both wineries I wrote about previously, and is produced from blocks that are either too young or not stylistically aligned with its big sisters. As I mentioned in previous posts, Jonata and The Hilt are sister wineries of Screaming Eagle through a shared owner in Stan Kroenke who also owns the LA Rams and other sporting teams. Jonata excels with Rhône and Bordeaux varieties while The Hilt commands Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, providing the basis for the Paring portfolio which includes a Bordeaux Blend, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. Fruit for The Paring is sourced primarily from the Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley regions of Santa Barbara, and the winery also shares its skilled winemaker Matt Dees with Jonata and The Hilt.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Syrah

100% Syrah; 14.4% ABV

The 2017 Syrah is opaque deep purple in color with heavy staining on the glass. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry compote, blueberry, plum, sweet tobacco, wet gravel, baking spice, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blueberry pie, candied black plum, black raspberry, underbrush, charred earth, slate, asphalt, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25. This is a classic California Syrah built for everyday drinking, and I think the price is perfectly fit for it. While certainly young and drinking more like a people-pleaser’s Syrah today, this would go great with food.

Great Value Italian Syrah

Today’s Story: Tenimenti d’Alessandro

Tenimenti d’Alessandro was established in 1967 by the d’Alessandro family when they acquired property in Manzano near Cortona in south-east Tuscany. Today the estate consists of about 30 hectares of certified organic vineyards, which are planted to Syrah, Viognier, and Sangiovese. During the 1980s, Tenimenti d’Alessandro experimented with a number of varieties before ultimately finding the soil and climate uniquely suited for Rhône varieties of Syrah and Viognier. In the beginning of the 1990s, d’Alessandro released their first Viognier and Syrah called Fontarca and Bosco, respectively, and have since become a benchmark producer in Cortona. Several years ago, the Calabresi family who had been partners of Tenimenti d’Alessandro since 2007 took ownership of Tenimenti d’Alessandro and today Filippo Calabresi handles much of the winemaking process. Under the Calabresi family, the winery became certified organic in 2016.

To further explore the estate or their wines, visit the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Il Bosco Syrah

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2013 Il Bosco Syrah is opaque deep purple in color and almost black in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, blackberry, black licorice, tobacco, damp tilled soil, mild smoke, and oak, with some alcohol also poking through. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry, purple florals, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, dark chocolate, and green peppercorn. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) fine-grained tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $38. This is my first Italian Syrah, but I do drink a good amount of Syrah and find this bottling to be a very strong value. While both distinctly Italian and distinctly Syrah, I think this would be a fun wine for any Syrah lover to try.

Sonoma Hillsides Syrah Reminiscent of Northern Rhône

Today’s Story: Pax Mahle Wines

Pax Mahle Wines was established in 2000 by Pax and Pam Mahle with a focus on Syrah and more “esoteric” varieties that can thrive in the cooler climate vineyards of Sonoma County and Mendocino. Pax and Pam moved to California wine country in 1997, though after a few years with Dean & DeLuca sourcing wines Pax decided he wanted to move into the production side of the wine business. Though Pax quickly rose to stardom producing Rhône variety wines (namely his Syrah), he expanded into working with Trousseau Gris, Chenin Blanc, Gamay Noir, and Mission with similar success. Pax farms his vineyards eschewing the use of chemicals and crushes his fruit by hand and foot as part of his minimal intervention philosophy. Pax only uses natural yeasts during fermentation and sulfur is added as minimally as required for stabilization only. Thanks to the high quality vineyard sites and his winemaking philosophy, Pax’s wines are magnificent representations of the varieties and terroir from which they come.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.9% ABV

The 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah is opaque medium to deep purple in color with moderately heavy staining on the glass. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of blackberry, spiced plum, blueberry, black pepper, green herbs, smoke, dusty crushed rock, and stony mineral. Moving to the palate, this Syrah showcases notes of tart blueberry, sweet juicy black plum, jammy boysenberry, black licorice, violet, sweet tobacco, scorched earth, mild baking spice, and mineral. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, grippy medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50 (though you might be able to find it a few dollars less). I think this is a great Syrah and a great price-point for it. While young, it is very approachable after a bit of air and the purity of fruit and mineral make this a striking wine well worth the purchase.

Another Delicious Bottling From Jolie-Laide

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Today I return to another bottling from Jolie-Laide, a boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA that I have written about several times already. If you missed my prior posts, my review of the 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache linked here contains the most in-depth background on Jolie-Laide and Scott, and I encourage you to check it out. If you would like to read my reviews for the 2019 Trousseau Gris and 2016 Halcon Vineyard Syrah to augment your knowledge of the portfolio, they are linked here and here, respectively.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Shake Ridge Vineyard GSM

Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier (no tech sheet); 13% ABV

The 2017 Shake Ridge GSM is mostly opaque medium purple/ruby in color with pale purple variation at the rim. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, anise, violet, slight barnyard, stemmy underbrush, and granite. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, brambleberry, tart wild blueberry, lavender, tobacco, gravel, herbs, black pepper, and mild spice. This is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $38. I think this is a good value GSM blend, and while it comes across slightly bigger than other Jolie-Laide wines I’ve enjoyed the same quality and focus on an honest wine is still starkly apparent. Pair this with venison steak, grilled lamb, or charcuterie.

Rasteau That Unfortunately Does Not Live Up to the Hype

Today’s Story: Domaine Gourt de Mautens

Domaine Gourt de Mautens was established by Jérôme Bressy in 1996 and is located in Rasteau of Southern Rhône. Though Bressy’s family owned vineyards in Rasteau for some time, the small AOC was not incredibly well-known. Jérôme’s father Yves converted his vineyards to organic viticulture in 1989 which allowed Jérôme to inherit healthy vines (30-100 years old) and soils for his first vintage, though he quickly took this a step further and started practicing biodynamic farming (later certified in 2008). The domaine consists of 13 hectares with chalky top soil composed of rocky clay and marl, largely attributed to the fact that water tends to flow toward the domaine following a storm. The name itself comes from “a place where the water flows” (Gourt) and “storm or bad weather” (Mautens). Bressy’s vines struggle due to poor nutrients in the soil, however, and produce low yields of 10-15 hl/ha. All harvesting is manual, and the fruit is sorted three times before beginning natural yeast fermentation. After the wines age, they are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Vaucluse Rouge

Blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, and Terret Noir; 16% ABV

The 2016 Vaucluse Rouge is opaque medium to deep purple in color. This needs some generous time in the decanter to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of black plum, crème de cassis, black raspberry, fig, black licorice, crushed rock, mild herbs, and black pepper. There’s also a slight sting of alcohol. Once on the palate, the wine shows notes of black cherry, candied strawberry, spiced plum, violet, light smoke, savory herbs, and milk chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. This is not my style of wine. It comes across rather big, sweet, and boozy (though I will say the ABV surprisingly doesn’t throw off the balance too much). It drinks more like a cocktail to me, and though I hoped saving some wine for day 2 would be better, it is all too much the same. Perhaps this is a vintage (or off bottle) story, but I don’t think it lives up to the hype.

There’s Only Beauty Here

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Jolie-Laide is a boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA, though he sources his fruit from trusted vintners across a range of appellations. “Jolie-Laide” translates to “pretty ugly,” and is a French term of endearment for something not conventionally beautiful which in this case stems to lesser known or “unloved” grape varieties Scott works with. I reviewed two wines from Jolie-Laide previously, first the 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache in A Journey for the Mind and Palate and most recently the 2019 Trousseau Gris in Incredibly Versatile Trousseau Gris. For a more detailed overview at how Scott makes his wines or where he sources his fruit from, you can check out these prior posts if you haven’t already.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Halcon Vineyard Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.8% ABV

The 2016 Halcon Vineyard Syrah is opaque medium purple in color with ruby hues. Given an hour and a half or so to open up, the wine showcases a nose of blackberry, plum, black cherry, smoked charcuterie, tobacco, charred earth, green herbs, black peppercorn, and crushed rock minerality. On the palate, I get notes of brambleberry, blueberry, boysenberry, black raspberry, licorice, sweet tobacco leaf, red florals, dried rocky soil, graphite, savory mixed herbs, and a hint of oaky spice. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, high tannins, and a long finish dominated by chewy red and black fruits.

Price: $44. Another outstanding value from Jolie-Laide, and my favorite wine I’ve tried from them so far. This has everything you could want from a Cali Syrah twice its price: depth, evolving complexity each hour it breathes, finesse, and character. Pair with herb-grilled lamb, spicy Korean-style pork, or a quality burger.

Beautiful Paso Robles GSM

Today’s Story: Epoch Estate Wines

Epoch Estate Wines, located in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles, was established by Liz and Bill Armstrong in 2004. Liz and Bill are geologists by trade, and knowing the importance of terroir in winemaking they settled on Paso Robles for its weather, rugged terrain, breadth of soils, and fruitfulness for Rhône varieties. The couple purchased the Paderewski Vineyard in 2004 and later expanded with the Catapult Vineyard in 2008 and York Mountain Winery in 2010. Paderewski is composed of limestone and calcareous rocky soils, Catapult of shale, clay, and silt rocky soils, and York Mountain of sand and fragmented sandstone. Though very different in climate and soil composition, all Epoch vineyard sites have one thing in common: they force the vines to struggle, reach deeply for nutrients, and produce concentrated and quality fruit. Across these incredibly diverse vineyards, Epoch plants Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon for the red varieties and Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Viognier for the whites.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Veracity

47% Grenache, 34% Mourvèdre, 19% Syrah; 15.4% ABV

The 2015 Veracity is opaque medium purple/ruby in color. I gave this 2 hours to open up, but the wine really started showing beautifully an hour or so in. The expressive nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, violet, cigar box, graphite, smoked game, black pepper, and chocolate. Once on the palate, this wine displays notes of blackcurrant, spiced black plum, black cherry, anise, tobacco, rocky soil, ground pepper, clove, and coffee grounds. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $65. This is very fairly priced, and one of the better GSMs I’ve had from Paso Robles save for Saxum (but there’s a significant price jump there). This Epoch is very well-balanced, expressive, and the high ABV goes unnoticeable. Pair with herb-roasted lamb, barbecue pork ribs, or mushrooms.

One of My Favorite CdP’s

Today’s Story: Domaine du Pégau

Domaine du Pégau is one of the great estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and though it became officially established in 1987 its roots and those of its proprietors extend significantly further back in time. Today the domaine is under guidance of Paul Féraud and his daughter Laurence, though the Féraud family can be traced as far back as 1670 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Titles to the earliest Féraud vineyards reach 1733, though the family sold most of their production in bulk to top négociants (like Jaboulet-Aîné, David & Foillard, and Guigal) when Paul joined the family business. In 1964, however, this all changed when Paul decided to bottle about 420 cases under his own name when estate bottling really started to pick up. 1987 marked the year when Laurence joined her father and the duo changed their name and label from Domaine Féraud to Domaine du Pégau. Pégau spanned a somewhat small 17 acres of vines at this time, with still a significant amount of produce sold to négociants, but as Laurence took a larger and larger role they phased out selling fruit and the 1990 harvest was fully used for their own wines. Today the domaine consists of 21 hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with another 5 hectares in Côtes du Rhône, 20 hectares in Côtes du Rhône Villages, and 19 hectares classified Vin de France.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée

85% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, with the balance Counoise and other authorized varieties (best guess – no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2009 Cuvée Réservée is opaque deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. I decanted this for 3 hours, which allowed some funk to blow off the nose. Once this opens up, aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, boysenberry, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, slate, clove, and underbrush leap from the glass. On the palate, I get notes of brambleberry, figs, black cherry, anise, red and purple florals, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, rocky mineral, coffee grounds, and game. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and smoke. This is drinking magnificently right now, given the time to open up.

Price: $100. I think this is very fairly priced, as Pégau with the 2009 vintage produced a wine of depth, elegance, and complexity that reaffirms them as an estate to beat in CdP. Pair with herb-grilled lamb, wild boar, or charcuterie.

Excellent Value From One of the Rhône Valley’s Most Famous Domaines

Today’s Story: Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné is one of the most historic wineries in all of the Rhône Valley, established in 1834 by Antoine Jaboulet in Tain l’Hermitage. Though nowadays we know Tain l’Hermitage (particularly Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage) very well, it was a quiet winegrowing region when Antoine started assembling vineyards there. One of his greatest vineyards, and arguably one of the most famous in the world of wine, La Chapelle in Hermitage has been with the domaine since its origin and created a leaping point for the generational expansion throughout Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Gigondas, Côtes Rotie, Condrieu, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape amongst other appellations. When Antoine passed away, his vineyards went to sons Henri and Paul (the latter the source of the domaine’s name) and passed from generation to generation for nearly two centuries. In the latter half of the 1900s, Gerard Jaboulet promoted Rhône Valley wines throughout the world in an effort to expand their reputation even more. When Gerard passed away in 1997, however, Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné passed to his sons Philippe and Jacques until, in 2006, Jean-Jacques Frey purchased the domaine. Jean-Jacques’ daughter Caroline is today’s winemaker and viticulturist at the domaine, and her striving for excellence in every facet of the role is bringing this historic estate to new heights. Caroline achieved sustainable farming status in 2006, and has since started moving toward organic and biodynamic viticulture as well.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert is opaque deep purple in color. I decanted this for 4 hours, with the wine blossoming to showcase a nose of black plum, blackberry, cassis, violet, worn leather, hint of nail polish remover, wet rock, light smoke, and mocha. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, licorice, mild tobacco, granite, savory green herbs, chalky mineral, and blood. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $30. Today’s wine is another outstanding value (I do try to find them as often as possible). This drinks with depth and opulence but remains beautifully elegant and with a structure to go for at least another decade. Pair with smoked duck breast, high-quality ribeye, or grilled sea bass.