TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

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Frank Murray III
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#1 Post by Frank Murray III » November 5th, 2017, 8:43 am

SYRAH BLIND TASTE-OFF: 2012 RHONE VS. 2013 CALIFORNIA - My Place (11/4/2017)

This event was conceived from a previous event held in Northern California this past May. That event was organized by Paul Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, as well as another smart guy, Alan Rath. For that event, they had a mixture of collectors, wine writes and winemakers. 12 wines, along with a coursed meal, I believe.

While we did not replicate last night the exact wines from their event, nor the tasters, we did work to copy the spirit of the event, using the blind format. I personally wrapped all the bottles in newsprint paper, scrambled them all several times and then I numbered them all in sequence from #1-#12. Thus, all we knew as a group was the 12 wines to be tasted but no one had any idea of the order. In sum, this was about as blind and transparent in evaluation as we could achieve.

We spread the wines into 3 flights (as opposed to 2 flights of 6 wines that was the May format). We also had a decanting plan that was followed: all of the wines we tasted last night were splash decanted 6-8 hours before the event began and then returned to bottle. And, we served a mixture of Persian food during the flights last night. And to further as much as the 'independent' sense that we wanted to create with the evaluation of the wines, we limited the cross-talk during the flights so that no one could bias/influence another taster.

Each taster had a TN sheet, listed in bottle order from #1 - #12, without wine names, although I did provide a separate sheet of paper that listed all 12 wines, their prices and origin (FR or CA). For each of the 3 flights, everyone had the opportunity to write notes, establish some kind of basic ranking and then finally a guess as to each--California or France. At the end of the 3rd flight, after all 12 wines had been tasted (well, 13 actually, as the Wind Gap Armagh was TCA'd), each taster was given time to revisit any of the bottles for a re-taste if they wanted to firm up their impressions. Then, we asked each person to rank all 12 wines, from 12th place to 1st place. Then, they turned in their sheets to me.

I was responsible for crunching the data, using an Excel file previously created by Alan Rath for the May event. It aggregated the rankings, the CA/FR guesses too, and the Excel file organized the results. I then took the results back to the table and we had the lovely and talented Todd French remove the bags, starting with the 12th place wine, all the way to the winning wine. As each bag was removed, we then had some time to discuss the result and see how it compared.

I will say this event was challenging for a few reasons. First, we're looking at 12 wines, over about 2 hours, across 3 flights. We're also comparing wines within a flight, to establish some kind of dominance or preference, then trying at the end (with the aid of re-tasting anything we liked), to rank all the wines against each other. Tough but rewarding. No bias, no scores, no critics---it was us doing what we liked/preferred.

I do want to thank several wineries for submitting wines into the event--Rhys, Ojai, Drew and Halcon. The remaining 2 California wines were from my cellar. The French wines were sourced from Paul, as well as Ryan Curry, who also attended.

Thank you all for making it down, for what was a terrific night of learning, friends and discussion.
  • 2012 Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie La Viallière - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4th place, group rank 5th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. A mix of blood and barnyard in aromatic. Cedary cherry, medium weight with good structure and what seemed like a light kiss of oak/char.
  • 2013 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 10th place, group rank 7th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Lavender and purple flower aromatics, along with lightly herbal. Purple fruit, good density, riper side of black cherry and concentrated core. My notes in the margin guessed Rhys or Copain.
  • 2013 Drew Family Cellars Syrah Valenti Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 1st place, group rank 10th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This was the 3rd wine of the first flight and so arguably I was not palate fatigued or tired, FWIW. Distinct black pepper aromatic, intense with depth, pepper and olive. The last few words of my TN sheet say "excellent, gorgeous stuff". I guessed Calif on this one, and I would say this was the most distinctive of the 6 Calif bottles last night.
  • 2013 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Armagh Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I was responsible for this wine and was the dude who opened it early in the day to decant. I didn't detect TCA and even at the table when we had it in the flight, it didn't jump out TCA for me. Yet, a handful of people, whether there was confirmation bias or TCA threshold they sensed, we decided to d/q the bottle and replace it with another wine (that ended up being the 2013 Chave Saint Joseph). NR (flawed)
  • 2012 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 5th place, group rank 2nd place. As opposed to all the other wines in the event, this bottle was pulled in the moment and dumped to the decanter and served immediately. It was only known by Ryan, who had brought it as a backup for the evening--no one else knew the wine until the reveal. And, it replaced the Wind Gap Armagh, which we had D/Q'd because of some TCA. So, to the Chave, it seemed aromatically kind of burly to me, very present and lifted in nature. Bloody, dark cherry, and what my notes say "a little heat?". Spicy and savory in the finish.
  • 2012 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 3rd place, group rank 4th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Light pepper in aromatic. Some richness here, kind of a sexy quality but it's not sweet nor overdone. Iron, dark tones. Spicy with good length, medium weight and some herbals in the finish. My ending comment in my notes say "really nice balance".
  • 2013 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 11th place, group rank 6th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Purpley, dark fruit and lavender nose, richer styled and some density here. Fruit purity with a richer core. Had no idea this was Paul's wine and I had it guessed as Calif, as well.
  • 2012 Bernard Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2nd place, group rank 1st place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I dug this wine, as it had a balance and complexity that made it stand out. A cool, whole cluster florality, with light pepper and some blood. The aromatics reminded me of the '13 Drew Valenti which was in the previous flight. Tight palate, a rocky, ferrous/iron quality yet with terrific intensity and depth. This was terrific.
  • 2013 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 6th place, group rank 11th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. There were a few distinct markers in this wine I really dug (and it's well known with those close to me that I am a die-hard Copain dude, yet I had no idea the wine in the glass was Copain so please take my TN here as transparently written). Perfumey aromatic, with face powder lavender and purple flower. In some respects, similar to the '13 Rhys Horseshoe that was in the previous flight. Lavender, potpourri, medium weight, with hard cherry/raspberry candy and a great balance. Between the aromatic and the fruit purity with the raspberry quality, this is what drew me to the uniqueness comments. I wish it would have shown better to the others but I definitely liked it.
  • 2012 Guillaume Gilles Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 8th place, group rank 12th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This seemed tight, rocky and intense with fruit but not in a way that I found very appealing. The aromatic seemed to loom large and ripe, the expression of the wine was rough and again overtly ripe. Dark, with what my notes say "lots of guts and some heat".
  • 2012 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 7th place, group rank 8th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. For what I would have thought of a wine like this to show better, it got outclassed last night. Lightly floral, potpourri, tight with minerality. I liked the core here and what my finishing comments in my notes say "call this a wine with potential". I didn't put this potential comment in any of the other 12 wines last night so that may be an emerging positive for the wine. Conversely, there were smart palates around the table last night and so either the wine got a little lost, it didn't show well from this bottle or both. Who knows but I do think this wine will be better in time, as often Allemand is. I still recall the 1999 of this that I had last year and how it tasted like it was 5 years old at that time, not 20.
  • 2012 Marie et Pierre Bénetière Côte-Rôtie Cordeloux - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 9th place, group rank 2nd place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. The aromatics on this were bitchen, showing a cool climate signature. Pepper, smoky with some stem influence. Brooding, roasted red fruit, sweet leather/saddle, some savory in the finish and a bit jammy. The guess I made in my notes was the Rhys Horseshoe, even saying in the same note "clearly California". Yet, as it goes with wines done blind, when there isn't some score from a critic or personal bias about 'what should be' and that someone tells me to like or revere a wine, the humility and recalibration of one's palate and what we know is tamed by the blind experience. For that, I am always appreciative of this format.
  • 2013 Ojai Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 12th place, group rank 9th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This was the final wine of the final flight, so take that FWIW. Purple fruit, dark raspberry too, and the ripeness here also stood forward.
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20171104_192231.jpg
The Event Table
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Todd Frenchie-Poo (center), Viet Ly (left) and Paul Gordon (right)
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The Line-up After Reveal, plus some of the whites we did as a warm-up
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The Group (L-R): Viet, Todd, Ramon del Rosario, Paul and Jackie Gordon, Dave, Ryan Curry, Sean Kennedy, Ron Quillin and me
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My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

My best wines of 2018:
2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

Kindness matters.

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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#2 Post by Glenn L e v i n e » November 5th, 2017, 8:52 am

Bravo, great event and terrific read.
"Never lose sight of the fact that it is just fermented grape juice" - a winemaker and negotiant in Napa Valley, CA

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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#3 Post by Frank Murray III » November 5th, 2017, 9:03 am

Crap, I forgot to post the results. I did a PNG of the Excel file so y'all can see how things shook out. The file was designed by Alan to report out the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place votes, along with any wine that got a last place vote (i.e. 12th place). PS--ignore the bold font on the wine names...it means nothing.
results.png
The Results
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My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

My best wines of 2018:
2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

Kindness matters.

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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#4 Post by Todd F r e n c h » November 5th, 2017, 9:27 am

OMG I LOVE BLIND TASTING!!!!!

All prejudice, all pre-conceived notions are out the window, and you find out just how sucky you are at wine tasting and identification. There's so much to learn about what you TRULY like as a wine aficionado.

I failed miserably, as did nearly everyone (except Frank, you correctly identified 11 of the 12 wines as either French or California - I identified 7, and would have been 8 but we thought there were 6 of each, so I changed one to CA - the original corked bottle was replaced, and Ryan had me convinced he knew what the corked bottle was, and he replaced with another, so I knew at that time it was French, when the first was CA), but I'm most proud that I identified the only double-blind wine of the night, the replacement bottle 4, if only that I nailed the region - St. Joseph (I guessed Gonon, was Chave). What excites me about this is basically that I peg myself as a lover of Chave, and my favorite wine of this tremendous flight was a Chave. Whew.

I've identified 3-4 Syrahs that I want to buy now, and I was pleasantly fooled by a few I swore were French, but were CA, or visa versa. Wonderful exercise, and not a 'bad' wine in the bunch (once the corked one was replaced).

One last tidbit - INCREDIBLE difference in stemware, which was a surprise to all. I brought Gabriel-Glas Golds and Steve, Ryan, and Ramon all had to re-sample their wines in my stems because: 1) the corked wine was not as harsh in mine (some detected NO TCA in mine), and 2) those with unexpressive noses came to life in the Gabriel-Glas Golds. I think a lot of GG stems will be sold after this tasting.

2012 Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie La Viallière - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Rustic quality but some vanilla so I'm guessing CA, grilled meat, dark blue fruits, old world style but I think new world, nice grip on the finish. I guessed CA/Copain. My 9th, group's 5th

2013 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Cured meats, more salinity on this nose, nice blast of red fruit, hint of sweetness, white pepper. I'm thinking Cornas, very nice. It could be CA - if so, I'm in! (it was CA!) I guessed Gilles Cornas. My 2nd, group's 7th

2013 Drew Family Cellars Syrah Valenti Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
Nose seems to scream CA for me so I hope I'm right! Dark-fruited, not as 'savage' as the others, nose has some malo, very new world, bright fruited. I guessed CA/Ojai. My 11th, group's 10th

2013 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Armagh Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
(Corked) In my glass, only very slightly corked (some detected none in my glass when it was passed around), rose petals and perfume still come through on the nose, palate fades quickly from the flaw, red-fruited, lighter bodied. NR (flawed)

2012 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
Absolutely French, some olive character on the nose, greener profile, beautiful mouthfeel, wow. Red-fruited, slightly sweet, long finish - excellent, has a big presence. I guessed France/Gonon St Joseph. My 1st, group's 2nd

2012 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
A bit shy on the nose, some olive and savory, blue fruits come through with coaxing. Silky mouthfeel, weighty, not much fruit, but lots of pepper. Cote Rotie? Too dark/rich than I would guess for Levet. I guessed France/Clusel-Roch (never had it before, no clue what it tastes like). My 10th, group's 4th (on this one, others seemed to have a more expressive nose than in the Gabriel-Glas, so maybe I should have tried those)

2013 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Dark, dark, dark qualities. Baking spice, cured meat on the nose. Nice sweet red and blue fruit, tart profile seems young, but still balanced. Nice finish, riper profile than prior bottle. I guessed France/Jamet. My 6th, group's 6th (I'm buying this wine, for sure. I guessed Jamet, as did Ryan! This is a freakin' $30 wine!)

2012 Bernard Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Very floral profile on the nose with violets and red roses. Black pepper, nice brightness overall, meaty, rich, fruit is very lively, satiny mouthfeel, seems young but built to age, high end, very nice. I guessed France/Chaillot. My 3rd, group's 1st.

2013 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Floral, but more of an artificial character in the florals, red fruited nose, more acidity than others, really 'pops' on the palate, cool climate? Nice. I guessed CA/Rhys. My 7th, group's 11th

2012 Guillaume Gilles Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Dark fruited, peppery, roasted game, weighty, primary profile, big in character overall. Blue fruit and pepper finish, slightest hint of TCA brought this one down in my rankings. I guessed CA/Drew

2012 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Having trouble on France/CA on this wine - pushed a bit toward CA with a hint of Malo on the nose, lots of stems, very nice, lighter profile. I guessed (hesitantly) CA/Wind Gap. My 8th, group's 8th

2012 Marie et Pierre Bénetière Côte-Rôtie Cordeloux - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Green profile on the nose, white and green pepper, good structure, young, reminds me of the little Levet I've had, red-fruited, LONG finish, very nice. I guessed France/Levet. My 5th, group's 3rd

2013 Ojai Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Unique nose on this wine - blueberry compote really strong, some stems, nice mouthfeel with a balance of weight and tannic structure, very nice, not as 'meaty' as others, but nice wine, unique in this flight. I guessed CA/Halcon. My 4th, group's 9th
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#5 Post by R Nanda » November 5th, 2017, 9:28 am

Very cool read on some of my favorite wines. Thanks!
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#6 Post by ryancurry » November 5th, 2017, 9:32 am

Thank you for putting this together, Frank. Blind tasting is always humbling, and this was no different. I did reasonably well guessing which was california vs. french, but there were some notable exceptions. I rated Paul's Halcon syrah as my favorite of the night and thought that it was Jamet. Bravo to Paul on that one. The Benetiere changed a lot from when I opened it to when we tasted it at dinner. It was rather herbal and lean upon opening, but really fleshed out with time. The allemand seems to be going through a bit of a dumb phase. The Gilles cornas was really weird. Something was off, but I don't really know what. I've really enjoyed that wine in the past. I was completely lost trying to name each wine. The only one that I got correct was the levet. Really fun tasting!
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#7 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » November 5th, 2017, 9:36 am

Wonderful tasting and cool format. Enjoying the notes as well as I have, and have had, many of these wines.

I joined you guys, at least in spirit, popping the 2012 Benetiere after Frankie told me what you guys were popping. I am not surprised how well it did in the group tasting.

Todd, I am also not surprised by your reference to Levet in the Benetiere note. My note posted last night has a similar reference. The Chave being tops makes sense to me as well, I had that wine a few weeks ago, it is exceptional.

Levet coming out tops does surprise me. It has such a distinct signature, such a pungent perfume, that I see it being tops for some and bottoms for others (que in Alan).

I need to order Halcon again. First time I tried Paul's wines, the cool mountain profile shown through. Definitely can appeal to a more France-oriented palate.

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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#8 Post by Russ Williams » November 5th, 2017, 9:52 am

WOW!! Fantastic job gang. Thanks Todd for confirming what I have always said...Glassware matters and GG rock!!
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#9 Post by Frank Murray III » November 5th, 2017, 4:07 pm

Like most events we have here at the house, there was some wine leftover. From last night, just the CA wines, along with one Cote Rotie, which is the 2012 Jacques Lemenicier, which he opened at the end of the event and shared--I added this below. For the CA wines, if you want to read some follow-up on them, you can read the last few sentences of each CA note. I do find the Copain to be showing well, about the same as last night. The Rhys is better revealed to me. The Ojai, a more opulent wine as compared to the other two, yet I believe the alcs are all about the same as listed.
  • 2012 Jacques Lemenicier Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas (11/5/2017)
    Opened last night, left under cork for today. Tasting without food. Has a nice whiff of black pepper, cracked spices and purple flower. Stems here? Seem like a bit is nicely shading the aromatic. Plush, a generous palate of dark cherry, blackberry, cedar and supporting acidity. Spicy, cedary finish. Delicious wine here.
  • 2013 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands (11/4/2017)
    Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California (My Place): Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 6th place, group rank 11th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. There were a few distinct markers in this wine I really dug (and it's well known with those close to me that I am a die-hard Copain dude, yet I had no idea the wine in the glass was Copain so please take my TN here as transparently written). Perfumey aromatic, with face powder lavender and purple flower. In some respects, similar to the '13 Rhys Horseshoe that was in the previous flight. Lavender, potpourri, medium weight, with hard cherry/raspberry candy and a great balance. Between the aromatic and the fruit purity with the raspberry quality, this is what drew me to the uniqueness comments. I wish it would have shown better to the others but I definitely liked it........as an update, retasted this afternoon from last night's bottle, it shows the core of the purple, raspberry fruit, with some mineral tannin even after all the decanting and air it has seen. I really enjoy this wine for the purity it shows, along with the structure in it.
  • 2013 Ojai Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (11/4/2017)
    Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California (My Place): Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 12th place, group rank 9th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This was the final wine of the final flight, so take that FWIW. Purple fruit, dark raspberry too, and the ripeness here also stood forward.......as an update, re-tasting this afternoon using the leftovers that are still in last night's bottle. This continues to exhibit the riper qualities, as the aromatic shows some dried purple flower, and darker, ripe fruit. In the palate of the wine, it's got plenty of darker, savory toned fruit, along with stone fruit pit. It's just missing some complexity, some freshness that is better shown today in the remnants of the Rhys Skyline and Copain Hawks Butte. All in, this Ojai is just a more unctuous style of the wines we had last night, probably for me the most of all.
  • 2013 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains (11/4/2017)
    Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California (My Place): Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 10th place, group rank 7th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Lavender and purple flower aromatics, along with lightly herbal. Purple fruit, good density, riper side of black cherry and concentrated core. My notes in the margin guessed Rhys or Copain.......as an update, we saved the remnants of last night's wine and I am re-tasting it this afternoon so it's seen a lot of air. What the wine best exhibits today is depth. There is a darkness in the wine, along with black olive, potpourri and rosemary, all the markers of a good dollop of whole cluster. Black/dark cherry, juicy and tarry. This is very good today, it's held up well. This has plenty of stuffing and color to help it continue to age.
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My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

My best wines of 2018:
2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

Kindness matters.

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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#10 Post by Brian Tuite » November 5th, 2017, 6:25 pm

Love this Frank! Liking the Syrah notes coming out lately, it’s the time of year for sure. Our next tasting is going to be blind as well. Such an equalizer.
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#11 Post by M. Dildine » November 5th, 2017, 7:13 pm

Sounds like great fun ... and a great read!
Cheers,

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#12 Post by David Glasser » November 5th, 2017, 8:21 pm

Fun read. Would have guessed the Allemand would show better.

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#13 Post by c fu » November 5th, 2017, 8:31 pm

David Glasser wrote:Fun read. Would have guessed the Allemand would show better.
can't remember the last young chaillot i've had that's shown well.
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#14 Post by ryancurry » November 5th, 2017, 8:38 pm

c fu wrote:
David Glasser wrote:Fun read. Would have guessed the Allemand would show better.
can't remember the last young chaillot i've had that's shown well.

2011 Allemand Chaillots has been fantastic the last couple times I had it. I haven't had anything younger other than this 2012.
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#15 Post by Paul Gordon » November 5th, 2017, 9:08 pm

Thanks to all for attending, and particularly to Frank for hosting and organizing the event. Like all blind tastings it was humbling. Some thoughts/observations:

- I was surprised how stemmy the French wines showed at this tasting. Jamet and Clusel-Roch for instance, are moderate users of whole-cluster but the characteristics really came through last night.
- I thought the Gilles was lightly corked. Definitely a little off.
- Another poor showing for an Allemand! At our tasting earlier in the year Clape also showed poorly. At both tastings Cornas wines we more likely to be judged to be CA wines.
- Given the ranking, this group really liked their N.Rhones.
- Again I failed to pick out my own wine. I thought it was French. Do other winemakers have the same challenge?
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#16 Post by Craig G » November 6th, 2017, 5:39 am

Paul Gordon wrote: Again I failed to pick out my own wine. I thought it was French. Do other winemakers have the same challenge?
#humblebrag

;)
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#17 Post by Brian Tuite » November 6th, 2017, 6:00 am

Craig G wrote:
Paul Gordon wrote: Again I failed to pick out my own wine. I thought it was French. Do other winemakers have the same challenge?
#humblebrag

;)
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#18 Post by Todd F r e n c h » November 6th, 2017, 9:03 am

Brian Tuite wrote:Love this Frank! Liking the Syrah notes coming out lately, it’s the time of year for sure. Our next tasting is going to be blind as well. Such an equalizer.
Someone tell Todd to burn that shirt.
When I first showed up, I got a compliment from Steve, then when I sat down, Viet said he liked the cuffs. Guess you are on your own on the shirt, buddy. neener
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#19 Post by Todd F r e n c h » November 6th, 2017, 9:04 am

Craig G wrote:
Paul Gordon wrote: Again I failed to pick out my own wine. I thought it was French. Do other winemakers have the same challenge?
#humblebrag

;)
He needs to put on his label that 12.5% of participants in the blind tasting thought his wine was Jamet!
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#20 Post by Viet Ly » November 6th, 2017, 9:22 am

Robert: nice job popping the Benetiere. Next time we should face time/video conference you in for a vitual cheers. The Benetiere was my second pick of the night, and I asked Frank if I can purchase one from him as a memento for the night.

Craig: I pegged the Halcon as French as well. Based on the night's results Paul has a good reason to be proud of his wine. I told him it was the QPR of the night for sure.

Todd: You would have gotten more points if it was a French cuff shirt!

Still working on my notes, will post today hopefully.

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#21 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » November 6th, 2017, 9:23 am

Todd F r e n c h wrote:
Brian Tuite wrote:Love this Frank! Liking the Syrah notes coming out lately, it’s the time of year for sure. Our next tasting is going to be blind as well. Such an equalizer.
Someone tell Todd to burn that shirt.
When I first showed up, I got a compliment from Steve, then when I sat down, Viet said he liked the cuffs. Guess you are on your own on the shirt, buddy. neener
The shirt does not showcase the guns, so fashion fail.

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#22 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » November 6th, 2017, 9:24 am

Viet Ly wrote:Robert: nice job popping the Benetiere. Next time we should face time/video conference you in for a vitual cheers. The Benetiere was my second pick of the night, and I asked Frank if I can purchase one from him as a memento for the night.
I tried to get Frank to send me his cell number, not his landline, so I could text during the tasting. I think he feared what else I might send.

The wine was killer. Even on the second night, last night.

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#23 Post by Todd F r e n c h » November 6th, 2017, 9:42 am

Robert Alfert, Jr. wrote:
Viet Ly wrote:Robert: nice job popping the Benetiere. Next time we should face time/video conference you in for a vitual cheers. The Benetiere was my second pick of the night, and I asked Frank if I can purchase one from him as a memento for the night.
I tried to get Frank to send me his cell number, not his landline, so I could text during the tasting. I think he feared what else I might send.
I have his number [whistle.gif]
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#24 Post by Todd F r e n c h » November 6th, 2017, 9:43 am

Robert Alfert, Jr. wrote:
Todd F r e n c h wrote:
Brian Tuite wrote:Love this Frank! Liking the Syrah notes coming out lately, it’s the time of year for sure. Our next tasting is going to be blind as well. Such an equalizer.
Someone tell Todd to burn that shirt.
When I first showed up, I got a compliment from Steve, then when I sat down, Viet said he liked the cuffs. Guess you are on your own on the shirt, buddy. neener
The shirt does not showcase the guns, so fashion fail.
Perhaps, then, the perfect scenario is to tear off the sleeves and give them to Viet - his arms are shorter so he can convert them easily to French cuffs, then I will showcase.
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#25 Post by Viet Ly » November 6th, 2017, 11:45 am

Thanks to Frank and Jill for opening their home to us. Thanks to those that “sourced” the wines and those that brought extra wines for us to enjoy. Finally, thanks also to Rhys, Ojai, Drew and Halcon for contributing wines to the event.

Disclaimer: I’m a newbie to Syrah, with limited experience with California Syrah and only had a handful of Northern Rhone wines. Most of my experience comes from reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and reading the forums so YMMV. This tasting was one of the most fun and interesting flights of wines I’ve ever had. I really appreciated the blind tasting format and the chance to discover and learn about these wines without label bias.

My approach to selecting CA vs NR for my sheet came with the bias that CA = fruit and NR = savory. I know this was incorrect. I’ve had cool climate Syrah from Copain, Rhys and Arnot-Roberts which do not follow that premise, but I wanted to be consistent with my reasoning for the sheet. Additionally, I don’t feel like I have enough experience to properly rank the wines. My approach for ranking was to prioritize interesting/distinctive wines. I looked for wines that had the best/long lasting finish with tannins that spoke of “quality” to me. It was much easier to rank within flight and much harder to integrate the rankings at the end between the three flights.

TLDR version: it was an awesome night of wine. My top four in rankings were all very complex and some of the most interesting wines I've ever had. The next tier in rankings were also very enjoyable. Unfortunately, last two wines in my rankings were the only ones that didn't show as well for me (besides the flawed wine).


-------------------- FLIGHT ONE --------------------

2012 Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie La Viallière - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie:
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 3 of 4 for the flight and overall 10th place, group rank 5th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Red fruited, light pepper, fair acidity, some barnyard. It was a solid wine which was drinking well, but it was not as exciting to me compared to the other wines. I guessed CA but in hindsight should have voted FR due to the light barnyard flavor that I noted.

2013 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains:
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 1 of 4 for the first flight and overall 3rd place, group rank 7th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Purple fruit, pepper (underlined twice), violets, strong tannins that taste of high quality. I thought this wine tasted like a 2015 Vincent Paris Cornas 60 that I recently had and guessed French. Cool climate CA makes sense to me. I felt strongly that this wine stood out in the first flight.

2013 Drew Family Cellars Syrah Valenti Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4 of 4 for the first flight, and overall 11th place, group rank 10th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Red fruited, light floral, some coffee grounds. The flavors didn’t seem as expressive and the finish felt a little thin to me.

2013 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Armagh Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. NR (flawed). From the nose I smelled strong earth/mushroom. I didn’t get a chance to taste yet but when others noted the TCA the “wet cardboard” was more obvious.

2012 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2 of 4 for the first flight, overall 6th place, group rank 2nd place. As opposed to all the other wines in the event, this bottle was pulled in the moment and dumped to the decanter and served immediately. I had dark red fruit (fruit underlined twice), savory notes, and then tannin underlined once. I enjoyed this one, but had mixed feelings about ranking because I wanted to stay consistent to ranking the wines I felt were more interesting higher. The group had an interesting discussion regarding splash decant and drinking right away vs how wines can open and close throughout aeration when they are young as these wines were.

-------------------- FLIGHT TWO (My favorite flight of the night) --------------------

2012 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2 of 4 for the second flight, overall 4th place, group rank 4th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Purple fruited, pepper, florals. I wrote nice texture and clean tannin, which I thought indicates good quality.

2013 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2 of 4 for the second flight, overall 5th place, group rank 6th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Blood, interesting, pepper, orange peel. Good tannins. After the reveal I noted this was the best QPR of the night for me.

2012 Bernard Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 1 of 4 for the second flight, overall 1st place, group rank 1st place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This wine had the most interesting and distinctive flavors of the night. I got a lot of smoke, tobacco, tar, pepper, complex, fun. I think this wine is perfect for someone who’s into cigars. Dark and dense fruit flavors but light on it’s feet. In hind sight, I can see why this wine would be very divisive depending on preference of the taster.

2013 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4 of 4 of the second flight, overall 12th place, group rank 11th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I felt the wine had a closed nose especially coming after the Levet which was exuding lots of aroma. Red fruit, more in the cranberry spectrum compared to the rest of the wines. Finish felt a little thin to me.

-------------------- FLIGHT THREE --------------------

2012 Guillaume Gilles Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4 of 4 for the third flight, overall 9th place, group rank 12th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I had a generic note of fruit, pepper, tannins here, but noted that the wine was solid even though I wasn’t enthusiastic about it. When others noted that it may be flawed, I tasted again but did not note the typical TCA flavors. I did feel like there was some brett in there though.

2012 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2 of 4 for the third flight, overall 8th place, group rank 8th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Red fruited, savory, hard tannins. I enjoyed this wine, but I felt like I was much more excited about the second flight wines in comparison.

2012 Marie et Pierre Bénetière Côte-Rôtie Cordeloux - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 1 of 4 for the third flight, overall 2th place, group rank 2nd place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Dark red fruit, soy sauce, mushroom, tobacco, good quality/mouth drying tannin. The umami components and finish of this wine made it stand out. I really enjoyed this wine.

2013 Ojai Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4 of 4 for the third flight, overall 7th place, group rank 9th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I think this wine suffered by coming after the Benetiere. It didn’t have as much complexity and felt more straight forward with dense fruit.

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#26 Post by Paul Gordon » November 6th, 2017, 7:29 pm

Craig G wrote:
Paul Gordon wrote: Again I failed to pick out my own wine. I thought it was French. Do other winemakers have the same challenge?
#humblebrag

;)
It would be a brag if I got better than 50% correct on my CA vs FR picks. A dart throwing chimp could do as well ;-)
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#27 Post by Andrew Christiansen » November 6th, 2017, 8:33 pm

Thank you all for the notes, results and photos. Hated to miss this one, especially on a night Todd was issued a rare hall pass.

I'm not surprised about the Halcon. Every bottle I've tried over the past few years from the 2009/2010 vintages has been excellent. CA fruit with a Rhone sensibility.

Paul, are you still making the commute form East/South Bay to the vineyard?

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#28 Post by Joe S. » November 6th, 2017, 8:59 pm

Awesome tasting you all had! Love the write up, notes, and comments as well as the wine choices...Blind tastings let it all hang out!
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#29 Post by Chris Seiber » November 6th, 2017, 10:02 pm

Conceptually, I think this is where blind tasting adds the most value. Tasting wines from one region and/or one variety, learning the different expressions of the variety and/or place, finding ones that suit you better.

I don’t mind the “this could be any wine from anywhere” type of blind tasting, but it’s more of a parlor game and less wine educational, to me.

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#30 Post by Paul Gordon » November 7th, 2017, 10:50 am

Andrew Christiansen wrote:Thank you all for the notes, results and photos. Hated to miss this one, especially on a night Todd was issued a rare hall pass.

I'm not surprised about the Halcon. Every bottle I've tried over the past few years from the 2009/2010 vintages has been excellent. CA fruit with a Rhone sensibility.

Paul, are you still making the commute form East/South Bay to the vineyard?
Andrew

Yes still commuting most weekends to vineyard. We are starting the transition to Mendo next year. Plan to be full-time by 2019 pruning (end of Feb).
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#31 Post by brigcampbell » November 7th, 2017, 11:34 am

Great stuff. Jealous. Sorry to miss this one.

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#32 Post by Alan Rath » November 7th, 2017, 1:55 pm

Cool read, love the various takes on the wines. I think Paul may have chosen 2012 Rhones because it was a warmer, riper year, so closer to the California wines. Would be interesting ( and maybe easier) to do the same tasting again with all 13s.

Oh, will trade Levet for pretty much anything ;)
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#33 Post by Paul Gordon » November 7th, 2017, 2:49 pm

Alan Rath wrote:Cool read, love the various takes on the wines. I think Paul may have chosen 2012 Rhones because it was a warmer, riper year, so closer to the California wines. Would be interesting ( and maybe easier) to do the same tasting again with all 13s.

Oh, will trade Levet for pretty much anything ;)
Alan

Yes Frank wanted to focus on a single vintage so I suggested 2012. I thought a little riper than 2013 and a better match for CA. Plus the extra year in bottle would go some way to addressing the concern that French wines need more time. We also found sourcing '12 N.Rhone a little easier than '13s.
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#34 Post by Marshall Gelb » November 7th, 2017, 4:01 pm

Great tasting and very helpful! Blind tasting is the way to go and we all realize how little we actually know!


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#35 Post by Frank Murray III » November 14th, 2017, 4:16 pm

I opened another bottle of the 13 Drew Valenti to have over the next few nights, gonna get after a glass of that before dinner tonight. I also have bought some Halcon that is coming tomorrow, which I am going to revisit. Neither of these will be blind this time, but I'll be able to taste the wines singly, with some quiet contemplation time.

I'll bring back some updated TNs once I have them for y'all.
My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

My best wines of 2018:
2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

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#36 Post by Frank Murray III » November 15th, 2017, 4:48 pm

Here is my new TN on the Drew, which I am continuing to enjoy tonight. I'm not convinced I like it as much as I did two weeks ago, but let's remember that there was a different context for that event, and the amount of wines, the setting, the food, it all impacts the narrative. In addition, drinking something singly, as I am the Drew this time, allows me to better appreciate it. It also reminds me that whatever we see about TNs, including my own, posted by all of us, and the critics, is always contextually based. We don't always know that context, yet I try in my own way to put it in all of my notes so that the reader knows the how, when and where, to give some color to the narrative.
  • 2013 Drew Family Cellars Syrah Valenti Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge (11/14/2017)
    This bottle follows the one from about 2 weeks ago. Some differences exist in setting and context that are worth noting. To begin, the previous bottle was decanted 8 hours before we drank it. And, that wine was served blind, as part of a 12 wine, 3 flight event. For tonight's bottle, I opened 2 hours ago, and only slow oxed it. This bottle is not blind and it's the only wine in front of me. Having cleared that up, what's here? Well, the bottle last time was one of my Top 3 of that evening, in part due to the aromatics. Once again here, same imprint of ground black pepper, very distinct and lovely--it's bold and present. The fruit on this tonight shows a few clear markers. First, juicy and plump in weight, which then proceeds into a boysen/cranberry quality that carries a tartness, too. Light to moderate structure, mainly a berry skin/tannin kind of grip that simply tugs a bit in the finish....re-tasting the following day, same conditions as yesterday. The black pepper remains distinct, the purple/red fruit remains tart and there is black olive note that comes through, along with some licorice in the finish. Overall, this is a juicy, moderately savory wine with plenty of acidity. It's a style I appreciate for syrah, in balance to more opulent, darker syrahs that I also enjoy (think Carlisle Papa's).
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My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

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2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

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#37 Post by Frank Murray III » December 16th, 2017, 2:09 pm

Got an update I wanted to share. Been working through a bottle of the '13 Halcon Alturas the past few days, wanted to drop a note back to revisit the work we did last month. I appreciate Paul's inspiration to craft a wine in this style, and do it at a price of around $30. So, for someone who wants to explore a CA syrah that is inspired by an old world, Rhone approach, this is a good one to give a go.
  • 2013 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands (12/16/2017)
    This bottle follows the one from 5 weeks ago, which was part of our Rhone vs. CA syrah event. In that event, I had this wine blind, which for me is regularly humbling and a necessary ego reset: when I think I know something, blind reminds me there is always more to learn. For the bottle today, it was opened 48 hours ago and I have been working through it a glass or so each day, with today being the final day. No other wines to share with it this time, I'm drinking it without food. The aromatics on this are reminiscent of a recent 2005 Pax Castelli-Knight syrah. That wine and this Halcon show the mix of bloody/lightly stemmy/dried flower aromatics, as style I enjoy very much. Classic Rhone notes of cooked meat, rosemary/garrigue, with tangy red and black fruit that has a plumpish quality. There is some noticeable astringence in this bottle, which is far different than the bottle/TN that I posted on last month. The acidity on this is prominent too, a citrusy quality, spicy and fresh. My final thought on this is to let the wine age, to give it the opportunity to soften some and integrate the raw material that is here. I do see now what Paul was going after when he crafted this wine, I get it now and I like the approach.
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My WOTY candidates for 2019:
2014 Marie Courtin Eloquence Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge SC PN
2017 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Platt SC PN
2017 Kutch Pinot Noir SC PN
2009 Roederer Cristal Brut

My best wines of 2018:
2017 Kutch Falstaff Sonoma Coast PN
2012 Marguet La Grande Ruelle Ambonnay

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Marc Frontario
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TN: Syrah Blind Taste-off: 2012 Rhone vs. 2013 California with photos

#38 Post by Marc Frontario » December 16th, 2017, 2:24 pm

this is how u do it...my fav way to taste
Find something you love....and let it kill u....Charles Bukowski
I cannot escape the ravages of this man....R.Alfert

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