When given the choice to drink Northern Rhone Syrah where vintage is of no consequence my answer is overwhelmingly Thierry Allemand. And when a longtime friendship between Allemand and Rajat Parr spurred the creation of a Santa Barbara Syrah produced without sulphur addition I paid close attention. After tasting two vintages of the Anika Ballard County Syrah I've come to a very firm conclusion: At under $30 per bottle this is the single greatest value red wine I can offer. Forget qualifiers of boundaries, regions, countries. This is it. 

The story of inception begins with countless trips to Cornas to visit with the master of the appellation. Parr, a longtime wine director and sommelier at Michael Mina's restaurant group, had become enchanted with the wines over many years, starting at a time when its modest price tag reflected its relative obscurity. There's no domaine in France over the last decade that's seen a greater rise in popularity than Thierry Allemand. After leaving the restaurant floor Parr has been working closely with Sashi Moorman in Santa Barbara and Oregon on labels like Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte, and Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard. But, Anika represents the most adventurous and experimental of all.

Allemand's most sought after cuvée, the Cornas Sans Soufre, is the particular impetus for Anika. Unlike Pinot Noir, Syrah's inherent reductive qualities offer an opportunity to use less sulphur during fermentation and aging. Using zero is a tricky proposition, but when executed, the tannin profile is softer, more elegant, and the characteristics of the vineyard are displayed in rare open view. Texturally we have something that's brilliantly plush and suave, delivering unadulterated notes of black olive, lavender, and blackberries. The tell-tale roasted meat and black pepper spice is obvious, but the finishing mineral persistence is what truly makes me reach for each sip.

As Raj would say, there's only a couple vineyards in America where a project like this would be possible. Santa Barbara's smallest AVA, Ballard Canyon, is home to Stolpman Vineyard. The limestone bedrock under clay provides a rare and ideal spot, endowing the structure that Syrah begs for. A special own-rooted parcel here was tapped as the obvious choice for this adventurous endeavor.

Anika was fermented with 100% whole clusters in open-top fermenters without temperature control. No additions of any kind were made to the wine. The preservation of whole clusters brings spice and elements of freshness, but also intra-cellular fermentation which occurs in each berry. This mitigates any overly tannic qualities from stems, but perhaps even more importantly, its byproduct of captured CO2 helps protect the wine and allows for the exclusion of sulphur.

The result in bottle is a Syrah unlike any you've had. There's a velvet frame that makes Anika so delicious and easy to drink upon release. But, every step from site, to fermentation, through aging is dead-serious, and is why Anika exhibits all the elements that Francophiles seek when Northern Rhone allocations arrive. 

There was an embarrassment of riches at Thanksgiving this year, but it was Anika that left the greatest impression and raised the most questions. As holiday gift season is coming into full swing I cannot recommend another wine that will thrill such a wide range of palates. As this new project grows I expect to see its $29 price tag become a distant memory. 

2014 Parr Selections Anika Ballard Canyon Sans Soufre Syrah

$29 per bottle.