Roasting meats, crackling fires, warm gingerbread and peppermint spices may seem out of season, but they’re basic descriptors for Syrah and other Rhône-style blends.
The best of these wines are simultaneously robust in ripe fruit and savory in dark spices. Few New World regions deliver these elements with more consistency than California’s Central Coast, where a range of climatic conditions allow different traditional Rhône varieties—most notably Syrah—to flourish.
Syrah did not become California’s “next big thing,” as was widely predicted during the 1990s, and Central Coast Syrahs and blends are still emerging from the shadows of more popular red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (particularly from Paso Robles) and Pinot Noir (from most everywhere else). But when planted in special spots and treated with care, these are arguably the most dynamic and delicious wines being made on the West Coast today.
That goes for those being made in a more bombastic style, like Sextant’s Portolan GSM blend from Paso Robles, those leaning more toward cool-climate pepperiness, like Big Basin in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and those somewhere in between, like Stolpman’s Originals out of Ballard Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Because Syrah and other Rhône varieties haven’t yet reached the prices fetched by other grapes, there are deals to be had. Pay particular attention to everything being made (Rhône-style and otherwise) by Anglim, Comartin and Epiphany.
As always, be sure to check out our complete database, with thousands of additional reviews, at buyingguide.winemag.com. Cheers!
Big Basin 2011 Old Corral Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains), $55; 94 points. Like smelling a pepper shaker with an underlying line of boysenberry fruit, this tremendously spicy, low-alcohol Syrah promises a bright future for the 1,400-foot-high vineyard. The pepper matches with purple fruits on the silky palate, altogether delivering a refreshing yet savory experience.
Stolpman 2012 Originals Syrah (Ballard Canyon), $42; 94 points. Distinctive and unique aromas of blueberry, sawdust pencil shavings, freshly tanned leather and fennel seed swirl amidst a mysterious minty element. It’s silky and lush once sipped, with fine-grained tannins and all shades of purple fruit and flower flavors.
Anglim 2011 Syrah (Paso Robles), $28; 93 points. This is a wine to smell all day long, with dried rose petals, violets, cigar ash and blackberry fruit chews evolving into elegant aromas. The flavors are distinct and delicious as well, with long-lingering pepper spice, plum jam and beautiful florals. Editors’ Choice.
Foxen 2012 Cuvée Jeanne Marie Williamson-Dore Vineyard (Santa Ynez Valley), $40; 92 points. An aromatic profile of crushed mint, hot gravel and red fruit introduces this blend of 83% Grenache and 17% Mourvèdre. It’s lightweight on the palate, but with complex flavors of herb and spice that swirl around a core of blackberry fruit and finish with mouthwatering acidity.
Core Winery 2010 Elevation Sensation (Paso Robles), $35; 91 points. Dave Corey co-fermented 83% Grenache with 17% Syrah to produce this rich wine, which offers nose-tingling aromas of blackberry brandy. It’s soft once sipped, but also a bit brutal, with blood and barrel-age prominent alongside flavors of blackberry-peppercorn cake. Serve as dessert.
R2 2012 Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache (Santa Ynez Valley), $34; 91 points. Sonoma’s Roessler brothers deliver a great Grenache, with cinnamon spice, rose petals, squeezed strawberries and pie crust on the nose. Bright acidity shines on the palate, with red berries and strawberry spritzer flavors. Good tension between tannins and bitterness leads to a mouthwatering finish.
Transcendence 2012 Parea (Central Coast), $34; 93 points. Uplifting aromatics of blackberry soda and purple flowers provide a nose that could be sniffed all day, hinting at a fun but elegant GSM. The flavors fall in line, with cola, Bing cherries and rose water combining for a light, floral palate, yet with green tea tannins and tartness to keep it grounded.
Sextant 2011 Portolan (Paso Robles), $80; 92 points. This blend of 50% Syrah, 23% Petite Sirah, 17% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache presents a delicious strawberry cake nose, backed up with dried purple flowers and cigar box backbone. On the palate, elegant purple fruits are laced with leather and pepper, finishing with a cleansing tartness.
Caliza 2011 Azimuth (Paso Robles), $54; 91 points. This savory GSM blend, which gets tiny 3% boosts of Petite Sirah and Tempranillo, begins with aromas of chicory coffee, ginger and a bit of blackberry fruit. Black cherry fruit leads the flavor, with espresso and tar elements contributing to noticeable tannic grip.