Syrah shows many different sides in California, from San Diego north through Mendocino. But, one thing is understood here by all: There's no producer in the state whose passion for the variety surpasses that of Pax Mahle.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Pax Sonoma-Hillsides Syrah for $48 per bottle, with special pricing on the Pax Experience mixed 4-pack.For many years Pax has worked with a wide range of Syrah vineyards in California bottled under the Pax label, as well as Wind Gap. He's become obsessed with tapping vineyards on the extreme to prove the grape can flourish in conditions many thought were far too marginal. His fascination and love of the variety can be traced back to the traditionalists of the Northern Rhone Valley, the birthplace of Syrah. Beginning in 2016 Pax chose to pay tribute to one of the legends of the old guard, Raymond Trollat of Saint Joseph.As one would imagine, Sonoma-Hillsides is again 100% whole cluster fermented. Sourcing comes from three vineyards Pax feels capture the essence of cooler climate hillside California Syrah. Castelli-Knight Ranch and Walker Vine Hill from Russian River Valley, and the iconic Griffin's Lair vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. Through Pax's illustrious career it's sites like these that have best expressed the fresh and vibrant personality that Syrah is capable of. His visits with Trollat and other vignerons in the Rhone have been a huge influence on his viticulture and vinification practices.At 12.9% the Sonoma-Hillsides cuvée exemplifies everything that's so thrilling about the more savory, spicy, and mineral-inflected qualities of Syrah. Trollat, whose vines are now farmed by Gonon, personified the soul and authenticity found in the best of Saint-Joseph. Pax, too, stands as a benchmark for what other producers in California aspire to craft, having served as a mentor to much of the younger generation of winemakers. He has a long history with the variety here, but it's this hommage to Raymond Trollat that hit the sweet spot with me more so than any other bottling to date. This is not to be missed!
Alain Graillot is to Crozes Hermitage as the Peyraud's are to Bandol: Benchmark and definitive representations of their appellations. Alain's journey to starting his domaine in 1985 began, of all places, in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. And, as one might imagine with Alain's Syrahs, there will be stems.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage and 2016 Crozes Hermitage La Guiraude.
Additionally, featured below is a very special joint project between Antoine Graillot and Raul Perez, the 2017 Encinas Bierzo Tinto for just $30 per bottle.
Prior to founding his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted two key traits. He wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. Certainly elegance is part of this equation too, and as temperatures have warmed in the last 34 years, Graillot continues to be a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines that are steeped in an unwavering traditionalist approach.
Alain's two sons both produce Syrah under their own labels, but the eponymous domaine is still unwavering in their use of 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in older wood - divided between barrique and foudre.
La Guirade is not a single vineyard, but rather a selection of the best barrels, as Alain tastes through these personally each vintage.
Crozes Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value when it comes to the best producers working in the most esteemed parcels. But, even as Graillot's wines nail the value element, they stand out from the pack, as he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône valley.
Marquiliani's rosé of Sciaccarellu from the east coast of Corsica is, personally, the most highly anticipated rosé release of the year. There's a wide range of rosés I buy annually, and even have favorite pairings for each, but the one that's captured my heart for many years, above all, is this pale copper-hued, diamond cut gem.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Marquiliani Vin de Corse Rosé for $34 per bottle.
The native Sciaccarellu grape is grown here on decomposed granite terraces a couple miles from the Mediterranean, and just below the towering 8,000 foot Mount Renosu - ensuring cool breezes to balance out the island's hot summer temperatures.
The Vin de Corse is comprised of 95% Sciacacarellu and 5% Syrah and shows the more incisive and linear style of the domaine's rosé.
Along with her father Daniel, Anne Almaric tends the minuscule 2 hectare of vines that her family took over in the 1950's. There was a 20 year span where this 200 year-old domaine had remained abandon. Daniel was a pioneer, the first to plant Sciaccarellu on the eastern side of the island. Anne's background in agricultural chemistry lent a keen eye toward viticulture and the vines have prospered under her watch. Some of the greatest rosés in the world come from domaines that produce red, white, and pink wines, but here each single grape grown is destined to be rosé.
Marquiliani speaks from a very extreme edge of the general rosé landscape. It's wickedly precise with an undeniable laser-like focus through its finish. Mouth-watering and mineral infused, with a texture that's so fine if you think to hard on it, it may just vanish completely. The fruit spectrum is very much in the citrus realm, with grapefruit, faint passion fruit, and jasmine notes always hallmarks.
Importer Kermit Lynch's comment on Marquiliani's rosé may be his very most recognized,
"Drinking her rosé is like drinking a cloud. There's an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume."
Corsicans don't let much of this leave the island, so when given the opportunity each year I bring in as much as possible.
Today's list is deep on the main appellations of the Northern Rhône Valley. If you're crazy for Syrah like me, you'll find something to hit every mark and every occasion. Supreme values like Xavier Gerard's Côte Rôtie is still gaining traction in the US as a new import. Hervé Souhaut and Jean-Michel Stephan approach Syrah like their mentor Marcel Lapierre did Gamay. And, old gems turned new with 1991 Gentaz-Dervieux Côte Rôtie and now 2016 Hommage à Gentaz-Dervieux from Rene Rostaing.
Many visits along the wine route have left significant impressions on me. At the very top of the list is surely a July 2012 visit with Jean-Michel Stephan in Côte Rôtie. My friend and I had just finished taking in our first Bastille Day celebration in epic fashion at Lapierre's annual feast in Villié-Morgon. It's fitting that only days later we found ourselves atop the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie with a vigneron who remembers Marcel Lapierre as his greatest inspiration.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the truly singular Côte Rôties from Jean-Michel Stephan.
Jean-Michel takes an approach to vinification in Côte Rôtie that differs drastically from his neighbors. But, the most profound bottles hit the same mark as great traditionalists like Jamet, Benetière, and Levet. Stephan's philosophy, coming from his time in Villié-Morgon, mean that he employs full carbonic fermentation for his Syrah - a process customarily reserved for Gamay in Beaujolais.
As he explained to us, the whole clusters are placed into fermentation tanks free of sulphur additions, he pumps in some CO2, closes the hatch, and walks away. When he returns, the intracellular or "carbonic fermentation" is complete. On one hand this gives a fruitier note to Syrah, but the addition of stems counter that with spice, tannin, and freshness.
Stephan's Côte Rôtie "Classique" is comprised of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, sourced from various parcels throughout the appellation.
Côte Rôtie "So'Brune" is also comprised of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, but this comes from a high elevation parcel planted on mica schist. This very forward and plush in style. Dark and very soft-fruited in the warm 2017 vintage.
Stephan's Coteaux Bassenon is comprised of 60% Syrah, 30% Sérine, and 10% Viognier (oldest vines planted in 1896 and 1902). This parcel is on darker mica schist soils in the northern part of the appellation. This soil is more commonly found in the Côte Brune.
Stephan also stands out for his use of 100% Serine in his Coteaux du Tupin cuvée. This is remembered by vignerons as the ancient clone of Syrah. Differing with a move oval shaped berry, providing a darker take on the already wild Syrah variety, and doubling down on the violet aromatic notes. Old Serine vines here are planted on granitic gneiss with white mica schist, the same commonly found in the Côte Blonde.Finally,
En Coteaux Vieilles Vignes is produced only in select vintages and sources from the oldest Serine vines in Bassenon and is supplemented with 15% of old vine Viognier.
At first glance it may appear that Stephan's wines are Côte Rôtie through a Beaujolais prism. I don't see them like this at all. For me, they offer a mineral streak and wild aromatic range that is so very unique. However, each of the four cuvées do show an immediacy that is akin to Beaujolais. The dark and brambly fruit is unadulterated through the complete absence of sulphur additions. With a decant these young wines open up to reveal a side of Côte Rôtie that makes you feel like they are your first. They are exceptional, and they are singular.