2011 La Clarine Farm Syrah Sumu Kaw Vineyard- USA, California, Sierra Foothills (3/8/2013)
First thought was “whoa…this is different?” Rustic plum color…nose of green underbrush, cherries, blueberries, plum pudding, smoked herbs…very intriguing nose. First thing…this is not your typical ooozemonster Cali Syrah! It is Pinot-ish in feel, but with wild dark Rhone flavors. Maybe not even Rhone…just wild! The fruit is dark berries, rustic, yet light and crunchy. Lots of herbs and stems, underbrush…reminds one of Mourvedre? Bright acidity and good dose of minerality alivens the wine, and makes way for some wild complexities of smoked pepper, pine sap, tobacco leaves, au jus. I really like the light weight and the 12.4 alc. Very cool wine! (93 pts.)
2011 La Clarine Farm White- USA, California, Sierra Foothills (3/8/2013)
37% semillon, 32% viognier and 31% marsanne…cloudy unfiltered yellow, slight green color. Nose of tropical/citrus fruit, honeysuckle, pine needles, fruit wax, cold buttered rum spice. Very lite and somewhat delicate…has some SQN-isk to it, without any weight at all. Little tingle of crisp citrus acidity…fresh yellow fruits, some smoked herbs…nice play with the crisp acidity and a waxy banana skin cream to it. I think the Semillon really throws you for a loop(in a good way) with the classic Rhone flavors of the Viognier and Marsanne…giving it a brightness with acidity and some nice herbs and florals. This is a killer Summer sipper here…in the “different” camp! (91 pts.)
Nice notes! I have had both these wines in the last month. The Syrah is amazing for its power without feeling heavy. Right now it is pretty stemmy, for sure…100% whole cluster will do that. I do think that will calm a bit with time. That being said, it is totally enjoyable now. My most recent bottle got a 2-hour decant and was singing. The herbal/underbrush/white flower thing is so powerful and prominent in this wine, as is its potent minerality. It would be fun to taste this next to the 2010, which is a bit weightier (about 14.5% IIRC, a difference Hank attributes entirely to the vintages’ characteristics). I have no idea how it will age, but my gut feeling is that 2+ years will only improve it.
The white…well, different! Judging from others’ notes/anecdote, I get the feeling there may be some substantial bottle variation. The bottle I had recently was very cloudy with some funky sediment, and while not microbially flawed per se, it brings some funkiness for sure. I’ll probably give it another go in a few months with some open-minded friends and see where it’s heading.
Most importantly for me, Hank’s wines are a real game-changer in terms of the deep potential of the region, too long unappreciated due to poor varietal selection and overripe styles (not by Hank, though!). Such an exciting time for wine in the Foothills.
Haven’t opened the Syrah yet, but I opened a bagged bottle of the White as a “mystery wine” at lunch during a bottling session at Ed Kurtzman’s winery last month. I loved it and the consensus opinion was very positive, though not surprisingly no one came close to guessing what it was!
I wanted to ask Brian regarding his note on the Syrah - by “typical ooozemonster Cali Syrah” do you mean to say that most California Syrah is in an “oozemonster” style? Or do you just mean to contrast the La Clarine Farm Syrah to that style? I would certainly not characterize typical California Syrah to be in the “oozemonster” style…I don’t think there is a typical Syrah style at all when you consider California as a whole. There are many leaner-style Syrahs from California, especially from cooler-climate regions. And even most big Rhone-style wines from places like Paso Robles are noticeably not as huge as they were 6-8 years ago.
Totally agree, Nate. Places like Easton/Terre Rouge, Cedarville, and Holly’s Hill have been helping to lead the way in the Sierra Foothills, and others like Edmunds St. John have been making terrific wines from Foothills fruit for years. Now with newer producers such as David Girard, Skinner, and La Clarine Farm joining in, the clear potential that the area possesses is becoming realized on a wider scale. It certainly looks like overall quality from the Foothills is on the upswing and I think that trend is likely to continue. And the very different approach that Hank takes in the La Clarine Farm wines shows that there’s more than one way to make really good wines from that area.
The ones I drink! Alban, Saxum, SQN, Pax…albeit, still mostly from the days when it was cool to unleash the oozemonster! I know there are others that are toning it down(really haven’t had any from the last few years)…even the ones I mentioned nowadays…but this Syrah from La Clarine is a polar opposite from the likes of a 16.5 fruit gobber 2003 Reva!
Thanks for posting this note. I can’t comment on whether or not it’s SQN-like, but it’s a very delicious wine. Super light on its feet and with a crisp acidity that balances nicely against the waxy flavors. Great QPR too…
The 2011 was a tight wine from a lean vintage, and it shut down very hard for a long time. Last bottle, a couple of months ago, actually was quite enjoyable, but I gave it about 4 hours in the decanter before trying it. Needs big-time air, and no hurry on this one.