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.

Rising Star in Cornas

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Paris

Domaine Vincent Paris was established in 1997 with 1 hectare of inherited vines in Cornas. Vincent studied enology for four years before working alongside his uncle, famed Cornas vigneron Robert Michel, and desiring autonomy with his own wines. Vincent set about planting vines in St. Joseph and Cornas, ultimately acquiring La Geynale in 2007 and farming a total of 8 hectares today. Vincent farms 1.5 hectares of Saint Joseph, 6 of Cornas, and 0.5 of Vin de Pays with meticulous attention and refuses to use insecticide or chemical fertilizers while limiting treatments. Vincent severely prunes his vines (to only 4 bunches per vine) which helps produce concentrated, high quality berries and cuts down on green harvests. In the cellar, Vincent destems his fruit to varying levels and ferments the wines naturally after cold maceration at relatively lower temperatures. The wines spend 3 months in vats and then a year in oak barrels that are never new but rather 2-8 years old in an effort to not mask terroir, before they are ultimately bottled with light fining but no filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Granit 30

100% Syrah; 13% ABV

The 2017 Granit 30 is opaque medium to deep purple in color. I decanted this for four hours, which allowed the nose to blossom and showcase aromas of blackberry, black plum, overripe blueberry, bacon fat, violet, wet rocky/clay earth, charred herbs, rubber, and gravel. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of dusty blackberry, black cherry, cassis, anise, sweet tobacco, mild smoke, granite, black pepper, chocolate, and iron. There is even a funky note of root beer flavored Bottle Cap candy! This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $40 (might be able to find it a few bucks cheaper). This is a really nice value for Cornas, especially if you can snag it for around $35. While the Granit 30 is the more approachable and modern bottling, this drank significantly less people-pleasing than I was expecting (which is great). Pair with herb roasted lamb, venison steak, or braised beef ribs.

People-Pleaser From Cornas

Today’s Story: Domaine Courbis

Domaine Courbis dates back to the 16th century, with the estate today under watchful guidance of brothers Laurent and Dominique Courbis. Laurent and Dominique took over from their father Maurice in the early 1990s, and though they maintain traditional practices such as hand harvesting and rigorous sorting the brothers greatly modernized the winemaking philosophy at the estate. Consisting of 35 hectares under vine, the domaine falls largely in Saint-Joseph with 18 hectares of Syrah and 5 hectares split between Marsanne (95%) and Roussanne (5%). The next largest holding is in Cornas with 8 hectares and the balance is split among Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Péray, and others appellations. The fruit is sustainably farmed, fermentation occurs in tanks, and aging occurs in oak barriques that vary from new to 3 years old, with the overall style yielding intense and concentrated wines.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Cornas Champelrose

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2015 Cornas Champelrose is opaque medium to deep purple in color. I decanted this for about an hour, and it seems that is as long as this needs due to its aim of being approachable young. The nose showcases aromas of jammy blackberry, blueberry, violet, crushed rock, smoke, and light oak. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of blackberry, black plum, black pepper, tobacco, wet granite, chalky mineral, and chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $40. This is a tasty Cornas, but on a value perspective I’d probably look elsewhere. This was lacking complexity compared to others, and certainly fits into a more “people-pleasing” camp that is already highly competitive. Pair this with beef short ribs, grilled lamb chop, or charcuterie and blue cheese.

Boutique Syrah for the Explorer

Today’s Story: Arnot-Roberts

Arnot-Roberts is a boutique winery established in 2001 by Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two childhood friends who grew up together in Napa Valley. After college, Nathan started working with his father as a cooper of oak wine barrels while Duncan pursued winemaking throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Arnot-Roberts began with a single barrel of wine the duo produced in their basement and over time grew through the purchase of fruit from renowned vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, and Amador counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. When selecting vineyards, Arnot-Roberts makes sure the farmers are both “passionate and conscientious” because their goal is to produce small quantities of honest, terroir-driven single-vineyard wines which truly express their unique place.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Que Syrah Vineyard

100% Syrah; 12.2% ABV

The Que Syrah Vineyard, planted in 1993 at an elevation of 850 feet, is the oldest planting of Syrah on the Sonoma Coast. This organically-farmed vineyard is composed of sedimentary schist, shale, and fractured mudstone and Arnot-Roberts became the steward of the site in 2013.

The 2016 Que Syrah is mostly opaque medium purple in color heading toward fuchsia at the rim. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice, rocky soil, black olive, green beans, ground herbs, and smoke while screaming of whole cluster fermentation. Once on the palate, this displays notes of brambleberry, black plum, cola, wild blueberry, mild sweet tobacco, crushed rock, ground green pepper, olive, and exotic spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, elegant medium tannins, and a long finish. 4 barrels produced.

Price: $70. While not the greatest California Syrah I’ve had, I would be comfortable putting this up with the greatest “natural” California Syrahs I’ve had. While not for everyone, I would suggest the explorers and Syrah lovers looking for something new give this a shot. Pair this with a good burger, herb-roasted lamb, or braised beef.