A Wine Epiphany: Haut Brion, Pavie, PC, Alban & Herman Story

Last night I think I had a wine epiphany while working through a number of wines at Napa Valley Wine & Cigar. A small group gathered to drink some top notch bottles, grill some great beef from Bryan’s shop and just relax. First I will start into the two California Syrah’s that made me stop and think. In the end there are some CA syrah’s that I can really enjoy I find myself enjoying CA syrah less and less when they are made in the below style.

The 2003 Alban Reva was brought by me. I bought 3 bottles a few years back and this was the last of the three. I have enjoyed the first two bottles shorty after purchasing them. The wine was to say the least… a complete mess. Super hot and thick, almost black road tar syrup like. There was substantial fruit to go along with the overpowering alcohol and scorched oak. For all of the over the top components it seemed to have a hint of balance with it was chunky, tannic and really hot. I dont ever remember this wine tasting this way, then I had to stop and think that maybe I just cant appreciate these types of wines anymore? I would probably score this wine somewhere in the high 70’s to low 80’s. A really poor performance for a wine that is highly regarded by a certain wine critic and other CT users.

Hoping for some redemption in the Syrah category I moved onto the 2007 Herman Story Larner Syrah. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Listed at 16.1% ABV on the label, this drinks like a fortified wine. After taking one whiff of this I really think I felt my nostril hairs catch on fire. After trying to work past the obtrusive alcohol on the nose there is gobby blueberries, sweet vanilla oak and pepper. I was scared to even put this in my mouth at this point but I continued. Not to my surprise, the palate was even worse than the nose. Very viscous and thick on the palate, burnt oak, alcoholic like cough syrup fruit flavors, disjointed, clunky and tons more alcoholic scents on the finish. Why do people make wines like this? I think that I would have liked a wine like this a year or so ago but the more I drink wine the more I really dont care for this style. Does syrah really need 16.1% alcohol to be fully ripe?

Before the syrah mess above I worked through three red bordeaux’s that I truly enjoyed. Two wines were of the same style and one very different. While I can appreciate both of these styles, it is clear why RP enjoys the more modern styled wines. I dont fault another person for what they like but the HB is on another playing field when compared with the Pavie and PC.

The 2004 Haut Brion was just simply wonderful. Nose had a polished red and blue fruit complex. Bright black cherries, boysenberries and pomegranate seed. Below the fruit was limestone shavings, lead pencil, damp earth and a flowery scents. The nose was intoxicating and pretty, the palate was the icing on the cake. Glycerin like fruit, pureed raspberries, interesting streak of minerality, balanced out plush midpalate with red licorice and a super long finish. This wine has great concentrated flavours but without being heavy and cloying. Great mouthfeel, a finish lasting a good 60 seconds and if a wine were able to have perfect balance, this would be it. A real treat and a wine that was an eye opening experience.

On the flip side was the 2004 Pavie. I will start of by saying that I liked this wine for what it was, while labeled bordeaux it is extremely modern and more CA in style. Nose is filled with toasted oak, coffee beans, creme de casis and red fruits. This wine smells really ripe for an 04 and displays this on the palate. A bit more complex on the palate with tobacco leaf, more of the cocoa and coffee bean is found all wrapped with super ripe red fruits and some bottle sweetness. This was fun to try two 2004’s that were completely opposite in style. A bit more heavy and viscous than the Haut Brion but still enjoyable and a style I can appreciate.

More closer in style to the Pavie was the 2005 Pontet Canet. Noise was really sweet smelling with primary red fruits, fresh cream, toasty vanilla oak all with a confectionery twist. Palate was much better, super polished tannins, plush red fruits, ground espresso beans, lead pencil shavings and baking spices. I enjoyed this wine and another that was very modern in style. I could see why RP is a fanboy of this house and Pavie, really modern and almost Cali Cab in style.

A great night with great food and friends.

Do you see the light?!?

Tyler, have you had Haut Brion BLANC?!?!? That will change your life!

Your story above reminds me of once when we poured some fifteen year old Quintarelli Amarone for some soldiers in Marc Di Grazia’s army. One of them looked just like the Apostle Paul struck by light on the road to Damascus and exclaimed “Holy F#@K! THIS is WINE!!! We sell GRAPE JUICE!!!”…


This doesnt mean that I have to start liking burgundy…right? hitsfan

Only when you have La Tache…or is that what you see when you get the bill (aka heart attack).

Thanks Tyler. All I can say is “ouch.” I’m holding several 03 Revas. I’ll check in with one shortly.

Blasphemy! But then I still love those styles of Syrah. The Haut Brion is a special wine though for sure, and I loved your note. The firsts are priced out of reach for me, but I had a chance to try them at the WS Grand Tour a couple of months ago. The 99 Haut Brion was second only to the 99 LMHB on that night. Good stuff.

The 2003 Reva is great, just extreme.

I think you and FMIII need to go on a weekend retreat together, bring some BurgHound issues and about 3 cases of Village and One’ers - drink through them, discuss and come back new men [snort.gif] ! You guys are on the tipping point, you just need something to push you off the edge for good!

The bottle of 03 Reva I had in 06 was spectacular - just spectacular. Spent a good 3 hours consuming it, and it just got better and better . . . .

I’m not sure what ‘epiphany’ you could have based on two wines, my friend . . . . There are plenty of other choices of syrahs from Larner that are made in a ‘more subdued’ style that will truly knock your socks off - try Paul Lato or Jaffurs - wonderful stuff!


Obviously this has been growing as no one can try just two wines and claim to hate that style or varietal. It was more aimed at wines with high alcohol content than anything else. I still really like cali syrah but I am moving further and further away from the ones that are made in the high alchol uber ripe style aka Alban and Herman Story.

I’ve never been a fan of Alban or Herman Story, they’re just too big and alcoholic for me, as are many of the Syrahs I’ve had in the past from the area. Again, YMMV. The 04 HB, however, is right up my alley, and I actually have enjoyed a 2001 Pavie. Time for you to move to the Dark Side… we have cookies, you know. [diablo.gif]

Gotcha . . . .

The only ‘dangerous thing’ here are there seem to be some that can handle their heat more than others - I guess you’ll just have to figure out what works best for you!!!

Larner is a great site, though - I would search out releases from others from there for sure!


If you want to try California Rhone styled wines you might still like look at Edmunds St. John or, if you can find them (some of these are available on on the ATP program), Ridge. A 1989 Ridge Petite Syrah I had 2 or 3 years ago was the best Petite Syrah I have ever had.

Don’t feel alone Tyler, here’s a note of mine on the Reva from February.

  • 2003 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley (2/12/2010)
    2nd time with this wine and a much different showing this time. Drank over 2 days with bottle open the entire time. Day one was all about heavy toasted oak, tar, and dark fruit that was somewhat closed and tannic. Day 2 brought out a nose of heavy licorice and prunes. The palate was very pruney and bordering on port with still a lot of structure to work through. Overall not what I remember and not very enjoyable.

Posted from CellarTracker on GrapeStories.com

Larry - obviously you have a dog in the fight and want to plug the region’s wines, but IMO you go over the line when you attempt to discredit someone’s tasting experience.

As you would say, just my two cents.

Amen - I’ve yet to have a bad ESJ rhone-style wine.

I concur 100% with Tyler’s impressions of the Haut Brion, Pavie, Pontet Canet, and Herman Story (waaaay too hot).
The only wine I am not in complete agreement with Tyler was the 03 Alban Reva. Generally I get turned off by over-extracted, high alcohol Syrahs; and this wine fit right in. However, I thought it was a decent wine with some attractive qualities. The Herman Story I couldn’t finish my tasting, the Alban Reva I could have enjoyed a couple glasses. Tyler said it’s right around an 80 point wine, I would rate it closer to 87-89. Not great, but not bad.

The Haut Brion was an elegant, superb wine. My WOTN going up against a great lineup (in bold are my 5 favorite of the evening):

2009 Herb Lamb EII Sauvignon Blanc
1996 Henriot Champagne
J. Lasalle Brut Rose Champagne
2005 Pontet Canet
2004 Pavie
2003 Alban Reva
1998 Delectus George III Cab
2005 Zahtila GIII Cab
2007 Fairchild GIII Cab
2008 Keating GIII Cab (disqualified due to awesomeness)
2004 Scribe Cab
2007 Herman Story Syrah Larner Vineyard
2007 Schrader To Kalon
2004 Haut Brion, WOTN
2005 Herb Lamb Estate Cab (Corked)
2007 Seven Stones
2006 Ghost Horse Shadow
1999 Pegau
2007 Gargiulo

I am a fan of Reva, and have had the 2003 on multiple occasions. I have even declared it one of my top three syrah based wines. Having said that, this bottle was not up to those lofty standards, but it was in no way an 80 pointer to me. I do agree on the general comments surrounding the BDX. The Haut Brion is such a well made wine that one cannot find any flaws with.

In disguise, the Pavie and PC could pass for a current release Napa Cab any day of the week.

I didnt get any smoke on the nose or palate in the 04 HB. The wine overall seemed really polished and clean to me.

I really wish I was able to grab a few at costco when they had them, killer price and all.