For the Bold and the Daring

Today’s Story: Domaine Leon Barral

Domaine Leon Barral was founded in 1993 in the Faugères appellation, which lies within the heart of Languedoc-Roussillon (the Languedoc). Didier Barral, the proprietor today, is the 13th generation of his family to grow grapes though he is the first to start estate bottling his own wine under the domaine. From the domaine’s beginning, Didier devoted his 30 hectares of vineyards to biodynamic farming practices and is seen by many as a pioneer and visionary. For instance, one of the very unique aspects of Didier’s farming is his use of cows, horses, and pigs that roam the vineyards during the winter months to graze on cover crop while naturally fertilizing the soil. These animal helpers bring with them mushrooms, earthworms, ants, flies, toads, larks, and other lifeforms that all help aerate and add nutrients to the soil. For pictures of some of these helpers, check out the domaine’s website here.

If you couldn’t tell by now from what is written above, Didier is a naturalist winemaker. While it certainly starts with his biodynamic farmings practices, Didier utilizes very stringent practices in harvesting and in the cellar. During harvest, all grapes are harvested and sorted by hand and are sometimes destemmed and other times left whole cluster (depending on variety). The wine is vinified by gravity in large cement tanks, it is fermented with only natural yeasts, and maceration takes place for 3-4 weeks with manual punchdowns. Didier’s wines are also never racked, fined, or filtered and only a small dose of SO2 is added if necessary at bottling.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Faugères Valinière

80% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The Valinière is Barral’s smallest production cuvée, coming from 4.3 hectares of vines 15-30 years old. Like all of his vineyard land, these vines are planted in schist. The 2011 is deep, opaque ruby in color with garnet rim variation. There is sediment in the glass thanks to this being unfined and unfiltered (and possibly due to age). Once this opens up, the intense nose showcases aromas of blueberry, plum, black licorice, violet, nail polish remover, smoke, leather, damp soil, and a hint of barnyard. In the mouth, the wine shows notes of ripe black cherry, blueberry, red licorice, game, black pepper spice, wet rocky soil, and vibrant minerality. The 2011 Valinière is full-bodied with high acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a very long finish.

Price: $79. This wine is NOT for everybody. It is not for those who like big jammy, fruit-forward wines; it is not for those who like elegant, easy to drink wines. This being said, I was greatly impressed and enjoyed this wine (though my palate can become quite tired of the people-pleasers or the wines you can find anywhere). This is one of the greatest representations of “place” I have had to date (remember the farm animals). Pair this with grilled game meats or a dry-aged steak.

Tear-Jerking Syrah

Today’s Story: Thierry Allemand

Founded in 1982, Thierry Allemand’s winery originated as one member of a small bastion of producers in Cornas who sought to revitalize what was the “red-headed stepchild” of Northern Rhône. Though the wines of Cornas were once adored, the terraced vineyards fell into great disrepair during the early 20th century and many large négociants churned out harsh wines with heavy tannins that drove consumers away. During the 1980s, Thierry Allemand worked for Domaine Robert Michel when he started assembling (and more so rescuing) abandoned vineyards that needed clearing and restructuring of terraced walls. The process of building his own domaine took 15 years and he utilized many things he learned at Domaine Robert Michel (including terrace farming and noninterventionist winemaking) during construction and onward.

Allemand’s vineyards total less than 5 hectares and his annual production is about 650 cases of wine. While all fruit is farmed organically, Allemand takes this a step further and does everything by hand (not even a tractor is used in the vineyards). All of his wines are fermented in stainless steel and open-top wood vats, stems are left on cluster, punch-downs are by foot, and each wine is vinified separately. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered, while very little (and sometimes none at all) sulfur is added. Allemand produces the “Les Chaillots” from vines 5-40 years old in limestone and granite, as well as the “Reynard” with vines 34-90 years old in decomposed granite.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Cornas Reynard Vineyard

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

My first (and long overdue) bottle of Allemand and I must say I am incredibly impressed. The wine is medium to deep ruby in color and we let this decant due to its young age. Once the wine opens up, the nose showcases aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberry, crunchy cranberry, smoked red meat, fresh leather, purple florals, black peppercorn, cedar, and mint. Right out of the bottle, the nose showed aromas of barnyard and forest floor that mostly blew off after decanting. In the mouth this beauty shows notes of blackberry, blueberry, violet, damp loamy soil, cigar box, slate, crushed stone, and spicy minerality. Medium- to full-bodied with high acidity and dusty medium (+) tannins, this incredible Syrah finishes long with dominating notes of black fruit, crushed rock, and spicy pepper.

Price: $300. Not an everyday wine, though great for a celebration or nice dinner (I drank this at Spago Beverly Hills). Pair this with beef (like Spago’s Snake River Farms Wagyu), duck, pheasant, or even roast chicken and rabbit (like my fellow diners).

Santa Ynez Sangiovese

Today’s Story: Jonata

Short and sweet again today, as I wrote about Jonata and a different wine in my post Why Wait for Screaming Eagle? back on October 16.

Long story short, if you haven’t read my prior post, Jonata is owned by Stan Kroenke who also owns the LA Rams and Screaming Eagle. Kroenke bought 586 acres of property, though only 84 acres are planted under vine, and like many wineries in the area Jonata found success planting Rhône varietals such as Syrah but also grows Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals. For more I’d steer you to my prior post.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Tierra

95% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah; 14.9% ABV

This Sangiovese is medium to deep ruby in color. Once this opened up in the decanter, I got aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, mocha, smoked game, leather, and black tea leaf. In the mouth, the wine showcases notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, anise, charred earth, smoke, dark chocolate, and espresso. Overall this doesn’t have as much red fruit as I imagined it might, with the wine drinking very dark. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long, inky finish with notes of ground coffee.

Price: $90. I’d love to see this closer to the $75 mark, but I do believe it is fairly priced given its rarity, library release status from the winery, and quality. Pair this with roasted game, a rare steak, or pasta with a beef and tomato sauce.

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.

History. Quality. Ridge.

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards, another historic California winery, found its beginnings near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885. Osea Perrone, an Italian doctor in San Francisco, bought 180 acres and constructed the winery into three levels of the mountain using native limestone. He produced the first vintage under the Monte Bello Winery label in 1892, however later as Prohibition crippled the wine industry the facilities were abandoned.

Once Prohibition ended (thankfully), a man by the name of William Short purchased the winery and replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. The breakthrough came, however, in 1959 when the winery changed hands again to Dave Bennion, Hew Crane, Charlie Rosen, and Howard Ziedler and the partnership produced a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet. One of the greatest Cali Cabs at the time, this Monte Bello wine inspired Dave Bennion to leave Stanford Research Institute (where all partners worked) to focus on winemaking full-time.

As winemaking ramped up at Ridge, I would be remiss not to mention their Zinfandel, first made in 1964 from vines further down the mountain. In 1966, they produced their first Geyserville Zin that many of you should be able to find at your local wine store. By 1968, the winery was approaching 3,000 cases of annual production and had grown from 15 to 45 acres following an acquisition of the original Monte Bello terraces. Ridge demonstrated a quality and character in the upper echelon of California wines, with their 1971 Cab ultimately entered into the Paris Tasting of 1976, which I briefly talked about in my Chateau Montelena post.

As further background on Ridge, I’d like the opportunity to discuss their winemaking practices as well. Calling their style “pre-industrial,” Ridge shies away from chemicals and additives prevalent in the industry nowadays. They ferment their wines only with natural yeast, do not use commercial enzymes or nutrients to affect color, flavor, or tannin in the wines, and are certified organic. Further, one of my favorite features of a bottle of Ridge is the back label that tells the winemaking process and lists ingredients, which is not common.

And finally…

Today’s Wine: 2015 Syrah/Grenache/Mataro

35% Syrah, 23% Grenache, 42% Mataro; 14.3% ABV

Most of you who know me know how much I love Syrah, and Rhône varietals in general, so I was very excited to find this bottle of ’15 GSM to taste and review. Our wine is medium ruby in appearance and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of black and blue fruits, redcurrant, lavender, mild earthy white cheese, cured meat, and slate. This was still somewhat tight as a pop-and-pour so I gave it about 30 minutes of air before drinking. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of blueberry, ripe blackberry, dried cranberry, parched dirt, mushroom, underbrush, and a touch of blood. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long (surprisingly bright fruit) finish.

Price: $40. Though I’ve watched the prices for Ridge rise over the past several years, I still think their wines (especially the range of Zins) are some of the best values for the quality. Today’s GSM blend is no different and, quite honestly, this was better than I expected. Pair this with red meat and mushroom sauce.

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 sense 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.