Saturday, August 7, 2010

Atlantis wines from Sine-Qua-Non

Having tasted the wines from Sine-Qua-Non on a regular basis over the last ten to twelve years, I have noticed that the grenaches have improved significantly. From early 2000s, there’s more finesse to be found in the all of the wines from Sine-Qua-Non, and from 2007, I would say the syrahs and the grenaches are at the same level (until just a few years ago, Syrah var superior).

Manfred Krankl utilizes the same techniques for both Grenache and Syrah. In both cases, a great amount of whole clusters are used, and vinification is carried out in small open top fermenters with, depending of grape variety, vineyard source and vintage, a cuvaison that stretches from ten to 18 days. During that time, both pigeage and remontage are done for extraction. After alcoholic fermentation, the wines are moved into oak barrels, normally 50 percent to two thirds brand new and the rest are one to three years old. To some 90 percent, the barrels are made of French oak, but Manfred uses up to ten percent of American oak to add some flavor to the wines. Malolactic fermentation always takes place in oak, and during the almost two years long ageing, the wines are only racked twice. Before bottling, Manfred uses to egg whites per barrel to clarify the wine, but there is no filtration.
Even though the concentration is massive, over the years more finesse have been captured in these wines. It’s not easy to understand how a dens wine like a syrah from Sine-Qua-Non can be described as transparent, because they are not if you compare them with a red burgundy, but still they have what normally is described as terroir – a sense of place! One explanation is how Manfred sources the grapes, the vineyard sites he works with today are cooler than in the 90s. Another may be the age of the vines. The dedication of Manfred – to every single detail from vine to bottle – is still the same. And I guess that’s the overall most important factor.

2005 Atlantis Fe2O3 Grenache / 96-97 p
At first, before I tasted the wine, just put my nose in the glass, I thought I was on a very high level at a more modernly influenced estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is loaded with ripe, sweet cherries, blackberries and raspberries and there is also delicious spicy notes, very typical Grenache, but also found in other local grapes in the south parts of France, and even Spain. But I didn’t stay in either Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Languedoc, or even Spain, too long, for three specific reasons, 1) this wine didn’t have the mineral notes so often found in wines from soils rich in limestone, in France. for instance, and 2) it didn’t have the young, often very marked tannic structure found in the wines from Priorat, and 3) it was too great and powerful to be any of the finest Grenache based wines I have tasted so many times in other parts of Spain. Therefore it was California, and if so, only one producer to make this kind of wine is Sine-Qua-Non.
Although the tannins are firm and youthful, they are covered with the ripe lush fruit and glycerol, therefore the texture is smoth and silky. At this young stage, oak is of course present, but more with some sweetness on the nose and just a slight bitterness in the lingering aftertaste. It’s still very young and needs a lot of air – as with the syrahs, I’d recommend at least one hour in a decanter.
This vintage, the wine consists of 93 percent Grenache from Eleven Confession in Santa Rita Hills (which gives the most elegant fraction of the wine) and Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, and just seven percent Syrah from the estate vineyard Eleven Confession. This year, Grenache wasn’t harvested until November 7, and approximately 50 percent of the clusters were not destemmed. The wine was kept in French oak barrels, 54 percent new, during 22 months.
Drink it 2010-2020.

2005 Atlantis Fe2O3 Syrah / 100 p
This vintage, the blend was 93 percent Syrah, five percent Grenache (only from the estate vineyard Eleven Confession in Santa Rita Hills) and two percent Viognier. Most of the grapes came from Eleven Confession, which explains the cool scented fruitiness, slightly more than a quarter came from ungrafted vines in the excellent White Hawk Vineyard, and there is still some 20 percent coming from Alban Vineyard in Edna Valley, as well as a small fraction from Bien Nacido Vineyard. What might be surprising, knowing that 75 percent of the clusters were not destemmed, is that there is just a slight fragrance of the stems on the nose. Today, that note adds to the complexity, and it will of course fade away over the coming years and be replaced with more seductive secondary aromas. So will the slightly sweetish oak flavor, which is easy to detect today but still amazingly well absorbed and integrated.
This is of course still a very young wine, dark and dense and as always with the Sine-Qua-Non wine with that almost magical balance between pure power and great finesse. Even if it’s so young, there are layers of dark fruit, some earthy qualities and a delicious touch of licorice, fennel and white pepper, which reflects both the personality of the grapes, and their birthplace. There are not very many wines on this planet that taste like the syrahs from Sine-Qua-Non (the wines from John Alban are close, as of the three premium selections of Côte-Rôtie from Guigal, particularly La Mouline, but in riper years such as 2003, even La Landonne and La Turque). A month ago, the 2005 Atlantis Syrah outclassed the 2003 Côte-Rôtie La Turque in a blind tasting among a dozen wine collectors and connoisseurs – and this was not the first time.
I’ve had this wine on several occasions, blind of course, and one thing that always amazes me, is the length of the aftertaste, and the silky texture. And even though the alcohol touched 15.7 percent, I have never written anything about it – other than a slight touch of warmth in the aftertaste. This is truly a world class wine!
Drink it 2010-2025.


  1. Have you tried Chamisal Vineyards cinq-a-sept? It's mostly Grenache with a little syrah. It's grown right next to the alban vineyard, and even includes some alban clone Grenache. Best part is that it is an amazing and complex wine, and waaaaaaaay cheaper than an alban or sine qua non wine.

  2. I´visited Chamisal Vineyards in December last year on my Central Coast research trip, and tasted through their range of wines. I wasn't that impressed, although some wines were very good. I didn't taste Cinq-a-Sept, but two vintages each of their Grenache and Syrah. Good wines, fine texture, quite elegant, and of course young.
    Since they have had a quite recent ownership, I think we will see more from them in a very close future. Their vineyard have a great potential.

  3. What´s your opinion on the Atlantis Syrah compared to the California Label Syrah? Do you know if the grapes for the California Label Syrah come from the same or other vineyards?

  4. The 2007 Labels Syrah is made of 89% Syrah, 7% Grenache and 4% Viognier, and most of the grapes are sourced from the estates vineyards Eleven Confession in Santa Rita Hills (the vast majority) and Cumulus Vineyard at his estate in Ventura County. The rest of the grapes comes from Bien Nacido Vineyard and White Hawk Vineyard. One thing that makes the difference between the Atlantis Syrah and the Labels Syrah is that the latters have more of cooler fruit - this is the direction that Manfred Krankl is moving towards. Therefore his last vintages shows at bit more virant fruit flavors and slighly fresher fruit, as well as more finesse (though older vintages has always been very fine).
    It's worth to mention, that I haven't (yet) tasted the Atlantis and Labeles side by side. Next spring I will have a 12-13 vintages vertical tasting of the Sine-Qua-Non syrahs for my wine club, then I'll know for sure.

  5. Spännande med en SQN-vertikal! Vilka viner har du tänkt att ha med, eller är det för tidigt att säga? Jag ska på Divine's sqn-provning imorgon, vore kul att veta vad du har tänkt göra annorlunda/samma.

  6. Per,

    I'll have all the "regular" syrahs from 1995 to 2007, perhaps 2008, and the tasting will be in April 2011.