Monday, October 22, 2007

A Renaissance for California Syrah

After last weekend's late harvest of summer, fall returned today with the bite of wind, chill, and rain. Why not open a Syrah, then?

Then again, why a Syrah at all? Few wines piss me off more than Australian Shiraz and Californian Syrah. The grape's one of the greats, but it's far too easy to pay far too much for overly extracted, overly alcoholic, sugar-ridden fruit bombs that reek of heat. The Cola-Cola simplicity of these monsters is particularly infuriating, which is why I usually turn to the Rhône and sometimes the Languedoc for my Syrah.

But I took a risk on the 2002 Renaissance Syrah from their organically cultured, own-rooted, very low yield, high-elevation (1700'-2300') loam-and-granite vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. Matt Kramer claimed that their 2003 "Vin de Terroir" Syrah is "intense yet balanced... a very great syrah, the sort better associated with the likes of Hermitage and Côte-Rotie than California." Kramer's palate is reasonably in line with mine, so I decided to order that wine, which is made for extended aging, along with a 2000 Cabernet and this 2002 Syrah. A bit of a risk at $30 a bottle, but it's less than many gross Californian Syrahs.

Let me tell you, I'm going to be ordering more soon. The "basic" 2002 blows away every California Syrah I've ever had. Warm blackberry scents and chalky aromas promise beauty, and that beauty plays in spades in the mouth: for all its power and concentration, it's delicate. The tannins are smooth but they grip the far reaches of the tongue, while the acidity keeps the mouth watering. There's not much to say about fruit here — there's plenty of it, black and blue both, but fruit is not the point. Balance and delicacy is the point. At the same time, it's meaty, minerally, and just a bit peppery.

For all this beauty, the acid core is MIGHTY, and it could use another year, or three, or ten — who knows? — to deepen further. More evidence: on the second day it actually began shutting down. I love that! I love it when a wine, like a person, shows it has a mind of its own. I'm looking forward to checking in with the Renaissance Syrah again in a few years, to see what's on its mind then.


Anonymous said...

Glad you enojoyed the wine! From experience with the earlier vintages at Renaissance, I would guess this wine will keep improving for at least 5+ more years and live for many more. This is one of the oddities about the Renaissance terroir: nearly all the wines made there are very long aging by California standards, including such unlikely candidates like Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier!
Gideon Beinstock, winemaker

Wicker Parker said...

Gideon, thanks a lot for weighing in. Given the 2002 Syrah's excellent core of acidity, I have no trouble believing that this will improve over 5+ years. I am giving the 2003 Vin de Terroir Syrah more time, but the temptation to open it sooner is one I'll have to continually beat back over the next few years (fortunately, I'm storing it in a secure, undisclosed location).