Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Four vintages of Syrah from Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa Winery is a classic, a Rhône Ranger with a long and well established reputation. Yet they seem to be overshadowed by more recent producers, not because one is better or worse than the other, rather a common fact in California that newly established wineries are more interesting. To me, that’s a very strange mentality, especially in United States where history, as I’m told over and over again on my trips around California, is a missing part of the wine culture. So, when there is a history, why not be proud of it? Why not look back in the recent past, and check out how well certain wines age?
This is what I do on a regular basis, vertical tasting will tell you a lot of the quality and consistency of a winery or a particular wine. Today I revisited Zaca Mesa to taste some older vintages of their prestige wine, the Syrah.

Four vintages, all good ones, were tasted and the overall impression is that the wine has been very consistent over the years. There are some changes from the 1996 vintage to the 2008, such as a slightly different proportion of Viognier (from 20 percent in the 1996 vintage, to just a few percent in the more recent vintages). Also the grapes have been sourced from different blocks in the vineyard. Another detail differs, the alcohol. As in most wines in California, alcohol level has increased since mid 90s, in this case from 13.5 percent to 14.5. This is a quite common change in alcohol level in California during this period.
The overall impression is that the Syrah from Zaca Mesa Winery evolves very slowly, and to a very complex wine, and that’s good news to anyone who drinks their wines within days or even hours after purchase, which unfortunately is the most common, in United States as elsewhere.

2008 Syrah / 90-92 p
This is the current vintage, and it is of course young, riper and richer than the other I tasted. Since the vintage was short of Viognier, this wine is made exclusively of Syrah, at least almost. Instead of adding Viognier grapes, there was a co fermentation with the skins from Viognier, so I wasn’t too surprised to find a quite floral and spicy note from Viognier. Besides that, the fruit is ripe and dark scented, and the earthy and spicy notes, not very different from what the French calls garrigue, are quite evident. On the palate it is rich and almost full bodied, intense and quite silky, still the tannins are youthful and firm, and there’s also a good but not overly lively acidity. This is a very good wine, a bit riper than most of the vintages I have tasted from Zaca Mesa, but it is very well balanced.
Serving it today, it should be decanted at least 30-45 minutes before serving it. Based on the fine evolution of the older vintages, some more years of bottle age would be a better choice.
Drink it 2012-2028

2001 Syrah / 92 p
The 2001 vintage was considered to be great all over California. This wine is just another example of that, and the wine is impressive. I was so surprised to find see, that this wine is ten years old. There’s still a lot of primary fruit aromas of dark and sweetish berries here, but the spicy notes of liquorice and garrigue (just a little of that) and also of charcuteries adds the type of complexity one wish to see in a great syrah with age (or in this case, just some age). On the palate it’s still quite youthful, there’s still some primary fruit sweetness and the tannins are still young and firm, and overall it is reminiscent of the 1999 vintage, although this 2001 is bit more concentrated with riper fruit.
Even though it’s ten years old, it still benefits from some more years in bottle, or at least half an hour of decanting, and of course to be poured in a big glass and served with a hearty dish of grilled beef or with venison.
Drink it 2011-2021

1999 Syrah / 92 p
As in the 2001 vintage, there’s just a few percent of Viognier in this blend, still that addition is notable. The vintage itself is great, and the wine is a very good example of the vintage. Although the wine has kept some primary fruit aromas, it’s more to it than fruit. This is a very complex wine that offers fine notes of sweet tobacco, sous bois, dried French herbs, and charcuteries, and overall the nose is very well balanced. It’s medium intense on the palate, rich in flavor but totally dry in a way that’s more closed rather than on its way to dry out, because there god length to it. It is surpisingly fresh to be twelve years old, and it’s absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to follow it in the glass more than ten minutes, but over that short time, it opened up a bit. I would have loved to follow it over an hour in a decanter.
Drink it 2011-2019

1996 Syrah90 p
Fifteen years old but not old, I wrote in my notebook. This is lighter wine the the younger ones, and both the vintage and the fact that this wine consists of 20 percent Viognier, explains that pretty well. If the younger wines could be described as being bluish in the fruit, this one is more to red fruits. The yellow scented tropical fruit notes from Viognier are gone by now, but there’s a fine spiciness and very elegant secondary aromas here, but, no oxidation at all. I have recently tasted a lot of “great 1996 cabernets from famous wineries in Napa Valley” that wasn’t as fresh and well kept as this syrah! Tannins are still there to give the wine a good structure, but they are mature and almost velvety. This lovely wine surprised me, it’s elegant rather than full bodied and rich, and that’s this wine’s greatest assets.
It’s no hurry to drink the last bottles of this wine, but I doubt it will gain more complexity from further ageing.
Drink it 2011-2016

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