California Syrah... How Much Time in the Cellar

Hope I haven’t missed a thread. I thought it would be interesting to hear thoughts on Syrah as well as Pinot.

I love well-aged Syrah from the N. Rhone (my experience goes only back to the late 70’s and is weighted toward Hermitage). I’ve found that almost all vintages of great wines like Chave become interesting over time, even those that seemed a little insubstantial to start with (like Chave 86/87). For me there has been a huge win aging them for 20+ years.

In CA I have not had many well aged Syrahs. I had a 91 Havens last year and it was excellent, showing some of the same complexity and delicacy you get in the Rhone. I have quite a bit of Dehlinger from 1996 onwards. Those have always been good and they’ve evolved, but I don’t think they’re old enough to really find out what’s to come. Similar with some mid-90’s Havens.

I’m inclined to sit on these and see what happens in the 20-30 year range.

I got a PM a few minutes ago by some crazy Board Member wagging his finger at me for drinking my Hermitage too young!

I agree, I like them with some age as well, but I do not always have that luxury. Popping the '97 Jaboutlet La Chappelle tonight.

What a jerk. Maybe you should put him on ignore.

BTW, Hermitage is not in CA.

Well ESJ does great with 20 or more years of age. Even his most basic bottling improves with a decade+.

2002 Lagier Meredith is fantastic right now.

Just a couple of data points. Can’t generalize as the disparate styles of Syrah make generalizations impossible. I see no reason that balanced wines won’t age well.

Too hard for a general answer. I have some '11’s that are ready and some '03’s that aren’t.

Craig - too general. California is about the size of France. Hermitage is about 350 acres.

California has wildly different growing conditions from one area to another. People haven’t even begun to explore the state. I’ve had ESJ with 20 years on, and Phelps Mistral, which was a blend, but I think there are plenty of regions that people are just learning about.

It’s a good question but maybe you need to ask it in about 30 years!

I think you are misinterpreting my intent. Obviously there is not one answer for all wines, just as in the Pinot thread. I’m looking for people to share their experience and opinions whether it’s for specific wines, wineries, regions or whatever.

2004 Scholium Project Scythia has finally drifted from its monolithic position of power to something more refined and symphonic. Took a decade and I think I enjoyed the youthful brutish strength perhaps more.

It’s hard to generalize about CA syrah, since my experience is that it can vary dramatically depending on region, producer, vintage, etc… The only syrahs I buy in any volume are Arcadian, Carlisle, Bedrock and the occasional Rhys. This weekend, I opened a 2007 Arcadian Westerly and a 2006 Stolpman for some neighbors and both are drinking wonderfully and I’m in no hurry to drink the rest. One of the neighbors said that these were some of the best domestic syrahs he has ever had and reminded him of a '97 CA syrah that he drank years ago that was his transformational wine that got him hooked. As an aside, there is nothing cooler than pouring someone a glass of wine that takes them somewhere special in their life. It is what keeps me hooked on this rather expensive hobby.

I’m now just starting to dip into my '08 Carlisle and Bedrock syrahs and so far they all they seem quite young with long lives in front of them. It keeps me at peace knowing that I probably have been buying far more of each than regular consumption would warrant.

I have the definitive answer. Well, it’s definitive for me: that the vast majority of syrah grown in California is too ripe to age and develop in the kind of way you see from Hermitage or Cornas. That is not a criticism of California wines, just an opinion (supported by experience) that to achieve the levels of complexity and interest which great old Rhone wines can achieve requires growing conditions that are closer to the edge of viability than we typically see here in California in most growing regions in most vintages.

There are a few exceptions, of course, but they are rare. I can count the ones I personally know about on one hand: a couple of vintages of Peay Syrahs (2005 in particular); 98 and 2011 vintages of Lagier Meredith (maybe, time will tell). I think the Rhys syrahs in some vintages have a good shot at achieving this status, but it’s early days to judge. Maybe a few post-2006 Copain syrahs in certain vintages, maybe Halcon in certain vintages and with more vine age.

A lot of people will stomp their feet and throw in ESJ, Qupe, a few others. I just haven’t seen it in any of those wines, having sampled many of them from many vintages at many time points along their aging curves (again, I’m not saying they are not excellent wines, just that IMO they will never arrive at a place similar to what some old Chave, Clape, Jamet, Verset, etc. can get to). One I haven’t tried in quite a few years is the old Que Syrah vineyard, under the Failla-Jordan then Failla labels. Would be interesting to have a few of those put away for the long term (I drank mine already, because I wasn’t sure if they had the stuffing to go the distance).

I do buy some California Syrah, but I buy it for its inherent qualities, the tastiness of the wines more at younger ages. I have Dehlinger (since you mention it) going back to 94 vintage, have drunk numerous bottles of 94, 96, 97 over the years, and while I think those wines can be tremendous, I don’t know if any of them will get to where you hope they will be.

It’s a really interesting subject, but as of right now I don’t think there are ANY aged California syrahs that can “compete” with Rhones at comparable ages.

People often say “ESJ” but rarely designate a vineyard. ESJ is a negocient producer, and has gotten fruit from a number of different vineyard sources over the years (from literally all corners of California’s grape growing regions). I agree that Steve can make excellent wines, and that some of them do age pretty well, but I think the vineyard source is almost more important than the producer.

I think what Alan has to say has a lot of vailidity but I think there are more examples of syrah that will improve and develop secondary and teriary qualities without going over the hill. In addition to the cool climate sites that we have experience with, others on the cooler end of the spectum can yield ageable syrah if the fruit is picked early enough. Many producers won’t do it as the wines will not taste all that great young. I found that from my years tasting at The Marche aux Vins in Ampuis, I got a sense of the taste profile of young Cote Rotie that will age well, and those vintages which will not age well because they’re too ripe or too astringent. I look for similar qualities in CA syrah. That being said, CA syrah will never be Cote Rotie, but there sure are good unique CA syrahs that make good old bones, IMO. Other than ESJ, Qupe, Phelps, etc. we don’t have enough older vintages yet from most CA syrah producers.

Calling Tom Hill . . .

You want impressions from those that have experienced aged CA syrahs? Not sure there is anyone here that has more than Tom . . .perhaps Randall Graham or Steve Edmunds . . .


I sort of buy Alan’s analysis, but I think it’s more accurate to say “we don’t yet know which sites will produce such wines.” It’s as if we were still growing most Syrah in the Southern Rhone before stumbling on Hermitage and Cote Rotie.

Of course I don’t expect Syrah from the best sites in CA to taste like Hermitage, but I have some hope that we will find the sites (or have already found them) that can produce wines that become profound over 20-30 years. We know this is the case with Cabernet Sauvignon and it seems it is also that way for Pinot Noir. It makes some sense that it should also be true for Syrah.

I would count Dehlinger as one of the exceptions. I have been working my way through some of his Syrahs from mid '90s and they are full of life. Mellow, resolved, balanced, plenty of fruit and interest. I would also put Kathryn Kennedy’s wines from Santa Cruz Mountains in the same company.

The only ‘rule’ I can offer is the cooler the climate the longer the cellaring.

Who was producing syrah in the mid 90s, not many. Lets get a list of syrahs made prior to 95. ESJ, Dehlinger, Alban, and Phelps Mistral, though its a blend, come to mind. Cellar Tracker also has Andrew Murray, Adelaida, and Babcock. I don’t see any Bonny Doon prior to 96.

Not sure that always works. Bordeaux is warmer than the Rhone yet its wines are long lived unless you’re restricting that statement to syrah. I’ve always felt acid levels are more correlated with ageability though not sure whether its TA or pH, or a combination of the two.

Thackrey Orion from 1986. Anyone have experience?