Textbook Syrah From the Rocks District of Oregon

Today’s Story: Big Table Farm

Big Table Farm is a relatively small winery and farm established in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 2006 by winemaker Brian Marcy and artist/farmer Clare Carver. Brian worked with wine in Napa Valley prior to starting Big Table Farm, spending a decade with stints at heavyweights like Turley Wine Cellars, Neyers Vineyards, Blankiet Estate, and Marcassin to hone his craft. Meanwhile Clare is a gifted artist and designs wine labels, many of which have been awarded.

Dedicated to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small amounts of Pinot Gris and Syrah, Big Table Farm commenced with only 150 cases of wine and has grown to a few thousand cases today. The wines are made in a minimal style, designed to showcase each unique source’s terroir and all wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. With a major emphasis on sustainability and Clare’s passion for farming, the duo’s 70 acre property also acts as a working farm where they produce seasonal vegetables and raise animals. A visit to the property will not only showcase the wines, but you will see hens, pigs, goats, draft horses, and cows wandering about with an area dedicated to bee hives as well.

I previously wrote about the 2018 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir2020 Laughing Pig Rosé2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay, and 2019 The Wild Bee Chardonnay from Big Table Farm.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Funk Estate Vineyard Syrah

100% Syrah; 15.1% ABV

The 2018 Funk Estate Vineyard Syrah is opaque deep purple in color, nearly black at its core. After about an hour to open up, the aromas are of medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of blueberry, blackberry, plum, violet, green olive, black pepper, charred green herbs, and rocky minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate displaying blackberry, black plum, mulberry, blueberry, violet, a hint of smoke, crushed rock, and cracked black pepper. This dry red is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 134 cases produced.

Price: $48. This is a very solid Syrah and one that offers decent value in my opinion. It’s incredibly true to variety and showcases the terroir of the Rocks District beautifully, all while remaining fairly complex with good intensity and balance.

Gorgeous Sonoma Coast Syrah

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.

I previously wrote about the 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah from Pax.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Griffin’s Lair Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.2% ABV

The 2016 Griffin’s Lair Syrah is deep ruby in color but with deep purple hues in the bowl of the glass. I let this open up in the glass for about an hour, though I think decanting is the proper move. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blueberry, blackberry, plum, violets, pine, cracked pepper, iron, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blueberry, black plum, black cherry, sweet tobacco, mild smoke, cracked green peppercorn, charred green herbs, and chalk. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality, though I think patience will be further rewarded by cellaring this bottling.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). I think this is somewhere between the fairly-priced and good value status, especially if you find it for around $50 like I did. There’s a great Old World charm to this wine, while the complexity and intensity are quite solid. It is still rather youthful though, so decant this or give it a couple more years.

High Quality Provence Rosé From Two Burgundy Titans

Today’s Story: Triennes

Triennes is a wine estate established in 1989 in Provence, France by Burgundy legends Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Given their prowess in Burgundy, the duo became convinced that great wines of incredible quality could also be produced in the south of France when focus is put on the vineyards first and foremost. After they purchased their estate, Triennes underwent a massive replanting program to ensure the healthiest of vineyards, with vines and rootstocks specifically adapted to the local climate and microclimates. The vineyards are farmed as naturally as possible, with Ecocert organic certification following a transition that began in 2008.

As far as the Triennes wine portfolio goes, they produce three main wines of Saint Auguste (Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, and Merlot), Viognier Sainte Fleur (Viognier), and the rosé I am reviewing today. They also produce a Merlot, Les Auréliens Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, Vermontino, Ugni Blanc, and Grenache Blanc), and Les Auréliens Rouge (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Today’s Wine: 2020 Rosé

Primarily Cinsault blended with Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2020 Rosé is pale copper in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of white strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, mild cherry, dried green herbs, and subtle maritime minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of watermelon, juicy strawberry, rosewater, lime zest, a touch of vanilla, and finely crushed rock minerality. This dry rosé is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $15 for 750ml (closer to $8 in Europe). This is a very easy-going, fresh, and enjoyable rosé and I think for the price it offers great value. My 375ml bottle was $7.50, and I find myself hard-pressed to find another rosé at the quality level of this one for the price.

Complex Sonoma Coast Syrah Made in Miniscule Quantities

Today’s Story: Black Trumpet

Black Trumpet is a very, very small wine producer established in 2012 by Sophie Drucker and Garrett Pierce. Born out of their passion for Syrah and the Black Chanterelle Mushroom, Black Trumpet is a one to two barrel (25-50 case) annual production of Syrah from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. They pick Syrah from some of their favorite organically-farmed sites (today’s 2019 bottling comes from the Charles Heintz Vineyard), and all harvesting is accomplished by hand. Grapes ferment in open-top barrels with partial stem inclusion and wild yeasts, with limited to no sulfur additions throughout the process. Come bottling, the wines are never fined or filtered to preserve both the variety characteristics and the expression of terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Syrah

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2019 Syrah is deep ruby in color and completely opaque. I decanted this for about an hour, as it’s still incredibly youthful. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blueberry, black plum, blackberry, anise, violets, mild smoke, cured meat, and cracked pepper. Flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, blueberry, licorice, bacon fat, charred green herbs, clove, black pepper, and chocolate. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 1-2 barrels (25-50 cases) produced each vintage.

Price: $35. I think this is very reasonably-priced given both the quality level and miniscule production numbers. In its youth, this is already very well-balanced with solid complexity and intensity. This also gives off a very Northern Rhône vibe while still showcasing the Californian fruit which I think can prove attractive for both Old and New World palates.

Fun Cabernet/Syrah Blend From the Walla Walla Valley

Today’s Story: K Vintners

K Vintners was established by Charles Smith as his first winery in December 2001. Located at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla, Washington, K Vintners produces small lot single vineyard Syrah and field blends of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Viognier which are all picked by hand, fermented using only natural yeasts, and basket pressed. Though Charles spent a lot of time during his developmental years traveling throughout the state of California and grew an appreciation for wine, his real passion for the beverage spawned during his time living in Scandinavia for roughly a decade. As a manager for rock bands and concert tours, Charles spent a great deal of time wining and dining before moving back to the United States in 1999. On a journey through Walla Walla in late 1999, Charles met a young winemaker who shared his passion for Syrah and Charles was convinced to move to the small city to make his own wine. In December 2001, Charles released 330 cases of his first wine, the 1999 K Syrah.

I previously wrote about K Vintners when I reviewed the 2016 The Creator back in February 2020.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Roma

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Roma is deep ruby in color. I didn’t have a decanter at the moment, so I instead let this open up in the glass for an hour then drank it over several hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, tobacco, pencil shavings, black licorice, charred green herbs, crushed rock, chocolate, and mild baking spice. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of black cherry, plum, black raspberry, sweet tobacco, black olive, slate, mocha, and a hint of mint. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. 752 cases produced.

Price: $50 (I paid $43). I think this offers very solid value and is also fun to try given the blend. The balance, complexity, intensity, and length are all very solid and this wine continues to evolve with each passing moment in the glass. I’d certainly buy this again.

Expressive and Exciting Sta. Rita Hills 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).

I previously wrote about Black Sheep Finds when I reviewed their 2017 Holus Bolus Franc de Pied Syrah.

Today’s Wine: 2017 The Joy Fantastic Syrah

100% Syrah; 13% ABV

The 2017 Joy Fantastic Syrah is medium purple in color and opaque. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following hour or so. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing aromas of blueberry, blackberry, plum, violet, smoked meat, pine, black peppercorn, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blueberry, red plum, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, smoke, cracked black pepper, and bitter dark chocolate. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium but tightly-knit tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $45. I think this is pretty fairly priced, though there are better “values” out there in my opinion. What’s really impressive here though is how complex and expressive the wine is, particularly given the very young age of the Joy Fantastic estate vineyard. I’ll certainly be revisiting this wine over the years to come.

Delicate but Beautifully Pure Syrah and Lagrein Blend

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

Whitcraft is a small, family-owned and operated winery in Santa Barbara, CA known for their traditionally made and “unadulterated” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Established in 1985 by Chris and Kathleen (Barnato) Whitcraft, the winery started as a passion for both the craft of winemaking and the lifestyle. Chris learned from California greats including Joe Heitz, Dick Graff, and Burt Williams while simultaneously hosting a radio show about wine from 1978 to 1989. Chris and Kathleen’s son Drake joined the family winery and took over in 2007, maintaining the traditional practices of hand-harvesting, foot-pressing, no added enzymes, and native yeast fermentation. Whitcraft’s wines are pure, well-balanced, and honest representations of the fruit and terroir, often remaining low in alcohol and not seeing much added SO2. Drake hand fills and corks his wines, with production incredibly limited and often reserved for mailing list clients or restaurants. Though Chris passed away in 2014, his vision and passion live on through Drake to this day.

Whitcraft is one of my favorite California producers of terroir-driven wines, and I previously wrote about the 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir, 2018 Stolpman Vineyard Grenache, and 2016 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Rojo Grande

Blend of Syrah and Lagrein; 12.83% ABV

The 2017 Rojo Grande is medium purple in color and rather opaque. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of medium intensity and the nose showcases notes of cherry, blueberry, plum, violet, forest floor, dried green herbs, coffee grounds, and clay pot. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays similar notes of black cherry, red plum, wild blueberry, soft licorice, lavender, sweet tobacco, cola, and clay. This dry red blend is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is an easy-drinking and beautifully-balanced wine.

Price: $30. This is a very solid price-point for this wine and I’d say it offers decent value. While it’s not the most intense in profile, the wine is of impeccable quality and makes for an incredibly enjoyable drinking experience.

Top-Notch and Beautifully-Aged New Zealand Syrah

Today’s Story: Bilancia

Bilancia is a small winery and estate established by Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson in 1997 in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Lorraine and Warren are both winemakers by trade and studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia, ultimately making wines in Australia, Hungary, Italy, California, France, and Portugal between the two of them. Bilancia’s focal point is a 6 hectare (15 acre) vineyard known as La Collina, and it is planted to Syrah, Viognier, Chardonnay, and a small amount of Gewürztraminer. Bilancia also sources Pinot Gris from Black Bridge Estate and other high-quality fruit from several renowned Hawke’s Bay vineyards.

Today’s Wine: 2007 La Collina Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2007 La Collina Syrah is deep garnet in color but it’s still holding onto some deep ruby hues as well. The aromas are of medium intensity, and the nose showcases notes of blueberry, blackberry, anise, forest floor, truffle, milk chocolate, and dried green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of blueberry, dried plum, sweet tobacco, earthy mushroom, cracked green peppercorn, chocolate, and mild spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The tertiary characteristics are certainly pronounced in this beautifully-aged Syrah, however the fruit is still very much alive and well.

Price: $85. Given the age on this and the rarity of the wine, I think this is very fairly priced. This is drinking beautifully right now and I would argue has a few years left, but the balance, purity, and length of the wine all speak to the high quality.

Delicious Northern Rhône Syrah That’s Light on Its Feet

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Paris

Domaine Vincent Paris was established in 1997 with 1 hectare of inherited vines in Cornas of the northern Rhône Valley in France. Vincent studied enology for four years before working alongside his uncle, famed Cornas vigneron Robert Michel, and ultimately desired 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.

I previously wrote about the 2017 Cornas Granit 30 from Domaine Vincent Paris, so feel free to revisit those tasting notes if you care to explore another wine from the portfolio.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Saint-Joseph Les Côtes

100% Syrah; 12.5% ABV

The 2016 Saint-Joseph Les Côtes is medium purple in color. This was another Coravin pour for me, so I simply let this open up in the glass for about 30 minutes. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases notes of plum, blueberry, violet, bacon fat, scorched earth, dried garden herbs, coffee grounds, and smoke. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, blueberry, black plum, smoked game, sweet tobacco, dried herbs, cracked pepper, and chocolate. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The 2016 Les Côtes doesn’t drink like your typical Syrah but it is both incredibly accessible and fun to drink.

Price: $34. I’m very impressed by the value of this wine, as the aromas and flavors are so true to variety and showcase the terroir beautifully but this is rather light on its feet. Nothing sticks out of place here, with the finesse being rather impressive for the price.

An Old World Style Syrah From the Santa Lucia Highlands

Today’s Story: Sandlands Vineyards

Sandlands Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated passion project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua established in 2010. Tegan, a winemaker with a proven track record of crafting fantastic old vine Zinfandel at Turley Wine Cellars, branched out into this side project with a focus on ancient and “forgotten” varieties. In the far reaches of California winegrowing in Lodi, Contra Costa County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Amador County, and the more familiar Sonoma Coast, Tegan sources Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Trousseau, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, Zinfandel, and other varieties from vines that are at times more than 100 years old. Though these varieties and the vineyards he sources from have been farmed for decades and generations, they oftentimes lay outside of the “norm” for California viticulture and are even mostly planted in decomposed granite (i.e. sand). What’s more, the vineyards Tegan works with are typically head-trained, dry-farmed, and own rooted. Tegan crafts these wines in a traditional and minimally invasive manner, allowing the unique terroir and vine to shine through in each bottling which results in lower alcohol, easy drinking, but complex wines. Production is miniscule and quantities are quoted by the barrel, so these can be hard to find and the mailing list is the easiest way.

I previously wrote about Sandlands’ 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine, which is an interesting blend of 33.3% Cinsault, 33.3% Carignane, and 33.3% Zinfandel all from very old vines. If you’d like to check out other wines in their portfolio as well, visit the Sandlands website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.8% ABV

The 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah is deep purple in color, certainly showcasing its youth. I let this open up for 1.5 hours and then drank it over the following 1.5 hours, which I think it needs at this stage. The aromas are absolutely gorgeous and of medium intensity, showcasing notes of crushed blackberry, black plum, wild blueberry, violets, licorice, gravel, graphite, and grilled herbs. Flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blueberry, blackberry, orange rind, leather, tobacco, cracked pepper, green herbs, and smoke. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, medium alcohol (shows slightly due to youth), and a long finish. Too young for sure, but already so delicious.

Price: $40. Prices are already on the rise for these wines, but at $40 (which is now low for the secondary market) I still think this is a very solid value for Syrah. It drinks rather Old World in style, and the complexity already is quite generous. Once the alcohol finishes integrating, this will be a showstopper.