TN: Saxum versus The Field

SAXUM VERSUS THE FIELD - Palate, Glendale, CA (10/4/2010)

The culmination of a discussion lead by Brian Graftstrom where he wondering if Saxum as good as the hype. The idea is to line some of them up blind against some worthy foes and see it it were really true.

The structure was that someone not at the event contacted each participant to find out their wines and try to make an even lineup of Saxum wines against an even number of “field” wines. These wines were bagged by each participant and often poured into less unique bottles in order to hide their identity as best possible. The wines were served in flights of two, randomly picked. We had two tables from which the bottles were not mixed until all results were counted. All reveals came after the votes were in.

For myself, I did not find this told me a lot. I didn’t feel as though we had some of the labels that are really good competition for Saxum in style and quality. As much as I like Alban for instance, it is a very different wine than Saxum to me. Lucia, SQN, Booker, Cayuse, etc would make for better comparisons to me. But it was fun none the less. The Saxums showed well if not spectacular. As I have noted in the past the 2005 wines show the best balance as a vintage for Saxum to date IMO. The Grenache wines and Mouvedre/Cab blend were really out of place IMO. Syrahs and blends strongly leaning on Syrah would make for best comparisons blind.

Easily winning was the Alban Reva which really stood out to me not only in quality but in style. Our number two, three and four wines were fairly close in voted points and no wine out of the top four received any first or second place votes. Each taster voted for three wines in first, second and third. Vote weights were: 5pts for 1st, 3 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd.

The results are:

  1. 2005 Alban Reva …5,3,5,5,3,5,5,5 - 36
  2. 2007 Denner The Ditch Digger …1,1,3,5,3 -------- 13
  3. 2008 Loring Divergence …5,3,3 ------------ 11
  4. 2005 Saxum James Berry …3,1,3,1 ----------- 8
  5. 2007 Saxum Heart Stone …1 ------------------ 1
  6. 2003 Ojai White Hawk …1 ------------------ 1
  7. 2006 Saxum James Berry …1 ------------------ 1
  8. 2006 Saxum Bone Rock …1 ----------------- 1
  9. 2005 Saxum Rocket Block …- ------------------ 0
  10. 2007 White Dog Grenache …- ------------------ 0

My votes were:

  1. 2005 Alban Reva
  2. 2005 Saxum James Berry
  3. 2006 Saxum Bone Rock

    Flight #1
  • 2007 Saxum Heart Stone Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. The nose is pretty tight only giving up hints of dark chocolate and char with ripeness and heat. Big fruited, juicy and a little bit thick with a touch of heat. Late strong tannins around the edge. Would have hoped for better. Needs time.
  • 2003 Ojai Syrah White Hawk - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Served blind. Nose is a bit light with some milk chocolate and fresh berry juice with some heat. Clean even palate with strong tannin and a touch ripe. Seems tight but I liked the character of this. One of the five I marked positively from the tasting. Nice and could get better.

Flight #2

  • 2005 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Served blind. Nose screams “ALBAN” with some reductive jet fuel like qualities and some nice pepper with air. Big yet balanced and even with a wee bit of heat and strong tannin. Easily the best wine for me in the lineup. Excellent.
  • 2008 Loring Wine Company Divergence - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Funky with very ripe raisiny, candy like fruit. Lots of chocolate on a lean ripe palate. Feels like it lacks concentration.

Flight #3

  • 2005 Saxum James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Very tight nose showing hints of chocolate and slight reduction, maybe some heat later. Rich with chocolate flavors yet a hard finish showing a clean structure. Potential but in need of time. My second favorite on the night.
  • 2005 Saxum Cuvée Rocket Block James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Sweet candy like nose with some cocoa and heat. Sweetly flavored with notes of hard candies and sweet fruit. Lean in feel with lingering tannin and solid acidity. I liked the acid/tannin combo but the candy notes pushed it back away for me.

Flight #4

  • 2006 Saxum James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Ripe fruit and heat on the nose. Sweet fruited and juicy with some heat. A nice mineral quality on the finish. The 06’s just don’t seem to show the balance of the 05’s.
  • 2007 White Dog Cellars Grenache Larner Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills - Sta. Rita Hills
    Served blind. Light and juicy. Showing like overripe Zin with some VA and heat. Doesn’t seem to show much concentration.

Flight #5

  • 2007 Denner “The Ditch Digger” - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Herbal nose with heat. Juicy sweet ripe fruit showing some choco oak but a structured finish. Pretty good. Marked as one of the top 5 for me.
  • 2006 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Served blind. Somewhat tight nose showing primary ripe berry fruits. Light and lean showing balance even though a touch soft. A touch of heat. My #3 wine and was surprised it was mine. This was decanted about 6 hours prior to consumption. Pretty good but I would want to give it some more time.

Posted from CellarTracker

Good lord … wetrock and I actually had some modicum of agreement on these wines!!! Stop tha effin presses, 'cause somewhere pigs must be flying. [swoon.gif]

Here’s my TN’s (and short redux) from the event, which I’m cross-posting here, because I know some (many?) of you would never click on the thread in the OL Planner.

All wines were tasted blind in flights of two. We labeled the bags with colors, and revealed them after all wines were tasted. I’ve added variety breakdowns and alc. %’s for the wines I was able to find that information for online. After each flight I list my preference between the two wines of that flight.

Flight 1:
Magenta-red color. Medium-full bodied. Red fruits on the NOSE. Initially nothing but sawdust oakiness on the palate, but it did open in the glass to reveal a nice spiciness (which is still probably derived from the oak); soft tannins with no noticeable acidity; alcohol was a little noticeable; I question this wine’s ability to age. 2007 Saxum - Heartstone (65% Syrah, 21% Grenache, 14% Mourvedre) 15.3% alc.

Burnt Sienna
Strawberry red color of great depth. Complex NOSE: flowers, earthy, crayola crayon, a bit alcoholic. On the palate: very oaky, and a bit funky like some Spanish wines, alcoholic; coarse tannins are a bit drying, but the juicy acidity gives this wine nice balance. 2003 Ojai - White Hawk Syrah 14.5% alc.

my Flight 1 winner: 2003 Ojai - White Hawk Syrah

Flight 2:
Very nice NOSE: expressive and spicy; dark fruits; cigar wrapper; slight green/vegetal aspect that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. On the palate: spicy oak with intense loganberry and blackberry fruits; a bit of funk had me thinking perhaps a touch of Mourvedre made its way into this wine – was surprised when it was revealed to be a straight Syrah; well-balanced with drying tannins and juicy acidity; this still needs time, but is shockingly delicious right now; alcohol barely noticeable at all. For me, this wine really stood-out stylistically and qualitatively from all the other wines on the table. Easily my WOTN. Easily in my all-time top 10 CA Rhones. 2005 Alban - Reva Syrah 15.7% alc.

Candied fruits and butterscotchy oak on the NOSE. On the palate: purple fruits; oaky; raisined/pruney – I wrote that I thought this was from a hot vintage. Grippy tannins and juicy acidity make this a well-balanced wine; alcohol only a little noticeable. My 5th favorite wine of the tasting, but it was in tight competition with the 2003 Ojai - White Hawk Syrah and the 2007 Denner - Ditchdigger. 2008 Loring - Divergence (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Mourvedre) 15.3% alc.

my Flight 2 winner: 2005 Alban - Reva Syrah

Flight 3:
Complex NOSE started-off tight with scents of red fruits (mostly strawberries) and a hint of spice; with some time in the glass, it changed considerably: it became much more expressive, and became more earthy than fruit – it reminded me a lot of the 2006 Denner - Dirt Worshipper, which is a Cote Rotie - styled Syrah. On the palate: intriguing red fruit/earthy balance with hints of cedar; grippy tannins with noticeable acid – a little lacking in acid for me, but this is a minor quibble; alcohol not noticeable at all; medium-full bodied. A very nice wine. I strongly prefer this over the 2007 bottling of the same. 2005 Saxum - James Berry (71% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache) 15.5% alc.

This didn’t give much on the NOSE: it was very tight, with a hint of orange oil – NOSE reminded me of the 2008 Loring - Divergence, but not nearly as expressive. On the palate: creamy; sweet red fruits; oak; hint of spice; full bodied, with soft, round tannins; alcohol is very noticeable – I recall referring to this as “vodka wine” – it was pretty bad. 2005 Saxum - Rocket Block (93% Grenache, 7% Syrah) 16.4% alc.

my Flight 3 winner: 2005 Saxum - James Berry

Flight 4:
Very ripe dark fruits (blueberry) on the NOSE, with a speck of citrus oil adding a little something in the way of complexity. On the palate: more of the same – ripe red fruits; slightly grippy tannins with juicy acidity; nice acid-tannin balance; nice overall structural balance, but nothing to write home about, either. 2006 Saxum - James Berry (45% Syrah, 38% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre) 16.6% alc.

This wine had a markedly different NOSE than the others on the table up to this point; moderately expressive scents of sage, lavender, and soap were interesting to me. On the palate: this wine unfortunately tasted much like it smelled: like soap. Medium-bodied, with non-existent tannins and noticeable acidity; slightly on the acidic side of well-balanced. Universally panned at our table. My least favorite of the tasting. 2007 White Dog - Larner Grenache

my Flight 4 “winner”: 2006 Saxum - James Berry

Flight 5: (this is where my notes get crappy as all hell)
NOSE seemed very similar to much before it – nothing really that interesting. On the palate: spicy; oaky; red fruits; not complex; drying tannins, but enough acidity for me to call this well-balanced. Tastes like a typical Central Coast CA Rhone. 2006 Saxum - Bone Rock (76% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 6% Grenache) 16.7% alc.

My ho-hum experience with the ‘06 Bone Rock had me thinking (and believing) that my palate was starting to go to hell. The distinctive NOSE on this wine made me take notice, however, and had me believing that, perhaps, my faculties weren’t lost yet. Complex red-fruity/earthy/spicy NOSE. On the palate: oaky, and not quite as complex as the NOSE had suggested, but it had a nice fruit/earthy balance with barely noticeable alcohol; this wine positively distinguished itself from the others on the table – I could tell this was something different, and was ultimately very surprised to discover that I failed to identify blind the wine of which I had sampled a small taste a mere 5 hours before. 2007 Denner - Ditchdigger (37% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise, and 3% Cinsault) 15.6% alc.

my Flight 5 winner: 2007 Denner - Ditchdigger

My overall rankings, from favorite to least favorite

  1. 2005 Alaban - Reva Syrah (easily my favorite of the tasting)
  2. 2005 Saxum - James Berry (so much better than the ‘06 and ‘07 bottlings of the same, imo)
  3. 2003 Ojai - White Hawk Syrah
  4. 2007 Denner - Ditchdigger
  5. 2008 Loring - Divergence
  6. 2006 Saxum - James Berry
  7. 2007 Saxum - Heartstone
  8. 2006 Saxum - Bone Rock
  9. 2005 Saxum - Rocket Block
  10. 2007 White Dog - Larner Grenache

    For me the Alban was the clear winner of the evening, and the ‘05 James Berry was the clear #2. The wines I ranked 3 through 5 were all very closely clumped together, and were all a clear step or two above the next tier. That “next tier” is comprised of the wines I ranked 6 through 8, which were all Saxums; these all came across as “ho hum CA Rhone wines” to me, and are great examples of my general feeling that “if you like Saxum, then there’s plenty of other similar CA Rhones out there, too.” The ‘05 Rocket Block was a clear step down from the aforementioned “next tier,” and the ‘07 White Dog was a clear last place for me. Ashley and I had a great time, and, as always, the attendees are what made this event really special.

    and our starter Riesling…
  • 2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer (10/4/2010)
    – popped and poured –
    – tasted non-blind over 45 minutes –
    NOSE: pear; white orchard fruits; floral; hint of petrol; unusually intense and complex.
    BODY: medium bodied.
    TASTE: wonderful flavors - underripe pluot, a bit white sugary, but not as much as I would have expected from a Spat. of such tender age; a hint of background diesel; very nicely balanced; this young WS has incredible focus, and drives forward with an intense purposeful determination. Probably the best WS Spat. I’ve yet to taste — give this some time in the cellar and the sky is its limit.
    Gut impression score: 95 - 97

… and our after-tasting Alban … (thanks Bob D.!)

  • 2003 Alban Vineyards Syrah Lorraine - USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley (10/4/2010)
    Purple fruits with hints of barely-grilled meat, spices, and v/a on the nose. Monolithic on the palate - dark purple fruit flavors; a bit hot, as well. Didn’t really distinguish itself from the other big-bruiser CA Rhones we had this evening.

… and our finishing Port. (thanks to tha Dietzmeister!)

  • 1992 Taylor (Fladgate) Porto Vintage - Portugal, Douro, Porto (10/4/2010)
    A bit tawny on the NOSE, with wafts of alcohol poking through candied red fruits. A tad alcoholic on the palate, with a pleasing pecan-like note providing a nice counterpoint to the inherent sweetness; a touch of funkiness added complexity. This seems as if it’s just starting to show hints of age – I can only guess that this will be stunning in 20 years, as this is the oldest vintage port I’ve tried, and it’s the first I’ve actually enjoyed.


Hey, blind dog finds a bone once in a while. neener

Another fun time. Did the so called fun baller table take any notes? I think they were speed drinking their way into a good time. [wink.gif]

I agree with you Chris, that field tells very little other than the 05 Reva kicks ass. duh!
As much as they are different, I dont think its unfair to throw Alban in the mix but the rest of the players are not all that similar in style or hype. Divergence doesnt even have syrah or grenache in it. Lucia, Lillian, Booker, SQN, Kongsgaard, Sanguis, Novy, Carlisle would have been more telling. BTW I dont think Cayuse plays, not because they are not good, just waaaay different.

Well done, fellas. Great idea for a tasting. Brian – couldn’t agree more about your observation regarding the 05 Saxum versus 06 and 07. I found 06 and 07 to be basically unpalatable to my taste, but 05 was quite enjoyable.

Very fun read, Brian and Cris. Thanks a bunch.

Very interesting. I regret that I was too busy to organize an East Coast version. I will have to try to do that when I have some free time, whenever I figure out what free time is. I have not had a lot of Alban. Sometimes very good, sometimes not. We had the 2003 Lorraine up against a lot of other high end Rhone varietals from outside France and I was unimpressed with it, even though I was the one who brought it. On the bother hand, I have had some great Reva.

05 Lorraine is one of my favorite RR of all time Jay.

What, no Copain? [scratch.gif]

Would have been interesting to have thrown in a Thompson or James berry.

In my opinion Copain wouldnt play either, other than earlier Copains 05 and earlier Id say.

How did I know you would say that. neener

I would think you would like the the '07’s

I bought a few offerings in 07, thinking thered be a lot of fruit even if Wells is trying to restrain them deliberately. Only tried the Eagle Point and Thompson so far, I still think the 05s are bigger :wink:

My thoughts too. Had I been able to attend I probably would have brought a Saxum Extended Barrel Aged just so we could try it, a Lillian to play in the Field (likely a serious contender), and maybe a Cayuse as a ringer to see what the thoughts were. I love all these wines, but as some have stated it is a bit unfair to pit an Alban v Saxum v Cayuse, etc… I won’t kick any of them out of bed, and any of them drank solo with friends is amazingly good, but in a lineup it becomes a bit tough to judge “best”

Great notes guys!

Love the avatar Scott. [snort.gif]

Great avatar Scott! In tasting like this, it is always the “unique” wine that draws me in. Alban will always stick out. I’m dieing to try a Cayuse wine…with all the talk I hear about how unique and freakish they are…sounds like my kind of wine!!

Brian just wanted to be the only person on the internet to ever use the phrase “underripe pluot.”

Were these decanted or aerated? This seems like some big wines to glean much from without some breathing. This looks like a very interesting tasting, although from the abv levels on these bottles, I hope you all had some taxis nearby.

Great job guys and gals! Good group of wines - and an interesting give and take between those present. It also seems that there might have been some ‘surprises’ based on tasting these blind - no?

I also agree that it would have been interesting to have a wider selection of wines that perhaps offered better QPRs than those present - perhaps some Jaffurs or Beckmen or Epiphany or others from SB County . . . Other than the Ojai and White Dog, my guess is that most of the other wines were either north of $50 or very close to it . . .

Looking forward to reading notes from others as well . . .

AND I do agree about the decanting - perhaps this can be redone next time with the wines opened a full 24 hours each (-:


If I can ever get out of Detroit and back to CA, we will have to do Passionfish again Brian! Or maybe get a RhoneRangers II challenge together with this crowd, I’ll be happy to bring some Cayuse to the party.

it doesn’t take 2 hours to taste 10 wines blind. If parker can do 150 in 3 hours I can do 9 in 1 hour. Not everyone has to write an essay and love poem like Brian. :stuck_out_tongue:

Larry, our table I brought an 05 Jaffurs Verna’s Vineyard that I wished I decanted, but nothing weirder than having a decanter in my office filled with wine heh.

I took notes but I left it at the restaurant. Fail.The only wine that showed well at our table was our bottle of the 05 Alban Reva (to me). Every other wine either showed too alcoholic, too oaky, or had little to no finish. I was really surprised by the 05 Bone Rock at our table because the first time I had that wine it blew me away, but this time i felt closed behind a wall of oak and tart fruit.

What was unfortunate, is when I went back to taste some of them before I left they were tasting better with air. All these wines needed time to shine, I think some of them needed an all day decant to flex their muscles and let the fruit shine and not be held back by all the oak.

Brian and Cris’s tasting notes were from 1 of 2 tables at the event. Hopefully someone at the second table will have at least a list of the top 3 places. The 2005 Alban Reva Syrah was at both tables and finished in first place on both tables. On the first table, the bottle was decanted for 2 hrs, put back in the bottle, re-corked and sat for 10 hrs before the event.