Wine Talk

Snooth User: outthere

Focusing on Cool Climate Syrah

Posted by outthere, Dec 17, 2012.

I was going to put this in the Whatcha Drinking Tonight thread. But since there was some Syrah talk going on I thought I'd start a new thread on Cool Climate Syrah.

Tonight I'm visiting a wine I haven't had in since May and wanted to see how it is progressing. It comes from high up atop the Yorkville Highlands in the Anderson Valley  which is in Mendocino County to the NW of Sonoma along the California Coast. Actually the Halcon vineyard is in the coastal range but a good hour drive, 30 minutes down the hill to the highway and 30 minutes west, from the Pacific. It s a unique spot sitting at an elevation of approx 2500' above sea level planted in in a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz rich rock. It erodes into a low vigor soil, the same kind that garner fame to Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhone. The heritage bud wood was chosen from select sites in Hermitage and Cote Rotie. It is densely panted forcing the vines to drive their roots deep for nutrients and water. The resulting fruit ripens on lower sugars.

It is one of the highest elevation vineyards in California and is picked in late October just before the first rains hit.

It's an extremely lean site where the temps are buffered by the sea breeze and altitude. The fruit ends up highly mineral, low ph, yet intensely flavored, dark purple and tart.

Tonight I opened a 2009 Halcon Alturas, a wine that will require a major amount of air to open up so initial notes won be very telling. I really like opening young wines and following their progression over the course of multiple days of tasting. The journey is fun for me. Halcon is extremely appealing to me due to its northern Rhone roots and major QPR. Having been to this vineyard I don't know how they manage to keep the price at a mere $20/bottle considering the work it takes just to get the fruit from the farm to the winery. Big kudos to Paul and Valerie Gordon for being so consumer friendly.


The color is deep dark royal purple. The nose has a touch of bread dough with savory blueberry and dried flowers. More to come on subsequent posts.

Feel free to continue this thread with your own versions of cool climate Syrah.




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Reply by napagirl68, Dec 17, 2012.

Great post, OT!  and gorgeous picture....

I am not the syrah aficionado that you are by any means..  I usually find syrahs too "big" for my current palate.   But I was directed to one a few years back that I really enjoyed.   I would say it still tops my fav syrah list todate (and is a cool climate syrah- I just can't do warm climate syrahs as a rule).    It was the 2006 Balletto Syrah.  I have not yet tasted any of their newer syrahs.

I also really did like that Carlisle I had a few weeks back, and I think you are correct... it was tight, and needed some time.  I went back and bought another bottle, and it is hiding away for a few years.

Does Halcon have a tasting room?  It didn't look like it from the website.. 

Reply by outthere, Dec 17, 2012.

No tasting room. They sell direct through their website. Volume discounts apply. Best part is Paul hand delivers in the Bay Area.

Here's a soil sample from Halcon.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 18, 2012.

Unquestionably great value, glad you turned me on to this stuff. Haven't tried any yet, but they could use a nice sleep from what I hear. It's not all about the money, but no doubt the value's in large part due to the fact they're selling most of their wine to end consumers. Take Lagier Meredith, $23 wholesale. Think there's another Mendocino Syrah that would qualify, Eric of CT recently posted about it in WB and I think I've seen you (OT) post about it too, starts with a "C" I think.

*Just looked it up and the winery is Cabot, and the particular wine is from humbolt county.

**Saw your note on their 2010 Nash Mill Pinot, also looks worth a look!

Reply by outthere, Dec 18, 2012.

John Cabots wines are on my short list of great cool climate values.

Reply by EMark, Dec 18, 2012.

I guess I am the polar opposite of Napagirl in that I don't think I've ever had a Syrah that I did not like.  It might be that I really like big wines, or it might be that I am not very discriminating.  I believe, though, that when a Syrah is good, it is great, but, when it's bad, it's still pretty good. 

In the other thread Foxall suggested that I listen to OT's advice regarding Syrah.  So, I have downloaded the Halcon order form.  My plan is to order some of the 2010 Alturas.  You guys have to promise me something, though.  Since I am 64 years old, I am not going to wait decades to drink it.  So, don't bark at me because I open it before you think it has even reached puberty, let alone maturity.

Couple comments on the pics, OT

  • First of all they are great.
  • The one of the dormant vines looks very much how I recall the Anderson Valley area.
  • I noticed the the grout on your tile is clean, again.  Another dig at me?  I have given Mrs. EMark the go-ahead on a kitchen remodeling project.  She will plan it for months, but the tile counters' days are numbered.
  • I know I'm a city guy, but that one of the "soil sample" looks more like rocks than soil.  I have to say, though, they are pretty cool looking rocks.  In the foreground, though, is that a rock or a stump?


Reply by outthere, Dec 18, 2012.

eMark, that pic is of what is below the surface. There is a pile of that next to the vineyard that was left when they planted.

I cheated and placed the glass over the stain. Look closer.

If you open one of those 2010's the winemaker suggests double decanting 24 hrs ahead of time. In other words, plan ahead!

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 18, 2012.

Look forward to hearing your reviews of the Halcon Mark, Fox and I are also holding bottles...

Reply by GregT, Dec 18, 2012.

I believe, though, that when a Syrah is good, it is great, but, when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

Me too. May be my favorite grape after Tempranillo. Maybe even before, depending on the mood. Of the French wine I have, the vast majority is N. Rhone.  CA is getting better and better at it.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 18, 2012.

I'm thinking of an all-Syrah NYE and this dovetails nicely.  Emark, I won't be opening my Halcons too soon since I've already tasted the magic, but do follow OT's advice on giving it time and air in any case. OT swapped me one for one of my old Jade Mountains--that one unwound beautifully over the night and, after the Jemrose he brought to dinner, convinced me that he's got the best access to California Syrah of anyone I've met. 

Definitely my interest in French wines skews heavily to the Rhone, and, when I can find them at a good price, Northern Rhones.  There's plenty of good California Syrah, but it takes some searching; whereas my almost-blind N. Rhone purchases stay true to type, I find too many Cali wines in that syrupy vein.  Probably under 20% of my Syrah is from the N. Rhone just because it's expensive.  With Halcon at $20 when you buy a case --they also save money on label design ;-) -- it's hard to justify a St. Joseph at even $5 more, and harder to justify those Cote Roties and Hermitages.  Still, I grab them when I see a good price.  You can find Cali Syrahs that capture everything in that range from St. Joseph to the biggest, baddest stuff from the top of the Hermitage hill.  But it requires having an ear to the ground, or an occupation like OT's!

And I agree that even "bad" syrah is pretty slurpable, while good syrah is one of those things that makes me wonder how anyone can resist wine's charms. 

BTW, Emark, I expect you will be with us a good long time.  After all, syrah has tons of resveratrol. I can't help but think of the Steve Forbert song, "My Time Ain't Long."  

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 18, 2012.

OT, forgot to say:  Great pix and insights.  Any other Syrahs you want to mention?

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 19, 2012.

Outside of CA/ N Rhone this would've been a good spot for Stephen Harvey to chime in on Australian Shiraz, maybe someone else? Think I've seen one of the mentors talking Australian. I'm supposed to pick up an Italian Syrah from K&L when my Charvin's are ready, $12 and with pretty good reviews. Also hear Fontodi has recently planted and just started releasing Syrah, forget about value there, but it'll be interesting to track. 

Reply by billstar, Dec 19, 2012.

I am really becomming focused on the high altitude cool climate wines.  Yes there are many wines at the lower price end , but there are some great higher end wines in this category that i would not be ashamed to bring out for a higher end tasting as well.

I find that many have been turned off to some of the Syrahs because they can develop more of a cooked fruit flavor in warmer overgrown areas. These cooler weather wines as so fruity, low acid, light tannins that i have seen peoples eyes light up after a tasting.  They tell me they never expected to get such big flavors and good body in a wine, yet without the volumes of acid, alcohol and tannin.  


I find this ame response to many of the pinot noirs of the anderson valley and mendicino area as well.  great stuff in the RR Valley. so much more burgundian in style, yet with its own mark..good topic

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 19, 2012.

So I just got the email from Quivet--OT, want to make any comments on their wines?  You've talked about them elsewhere.  Of course, if you want to pass on this until late January in hopes I could get a couple bottles in their hard-to-get allocations, I will understand...

Reply by outthere, Dec 19, 2012.

I tasted the Quivet Las Madres Syrah when I visited Mike a couple months ago. It was incredible. Not for everyone, it was extremely aromatic. I starred it as something I was going to buy when the release came out.

Here is my tasting note, it had been bottled a few days prior to my tasting.

  • 2011 Quivet Cellars Syrah Hulda Block Las Madres Vineyard - 8/27/12 Monday afternoon with Mike Smith (Envy Cellars, Calistoga): Not yet released. This vineyard is in the southernmost edge of the Carneros AVA. You can see the SF Bay from the vineyard. It produces some great cool climate fruit. It's made up of two blocks. Hulda block, which is comprised of clone 300 syrah whose cuttings came from Crozes-Hermitage in the Northern Rhone and Esther block, which is clone 174. 2011 was one of those years where Las Madres almost gave up because the fruit was not going to ripen. Then came a heat spike in October that pushed the vineyard through to the finish line. I had a barrel sample of this back in April at the Las Madres Luncheon. The nose on this wine is unreal. Mike credits the Remond Allier Forest MTL barrels for the incredibly savory, smoky, merde quality to the nose that just jumps from the glass. Really intoxicating but also polarizing as some people are put off by this aroma. The mouth is again silky smooth with creamy ripe red and blue fruit on the attack. Good balance of acid that lifts the palate right through the finish which does not exhibit a whole lot of tannin but brings a little bitter citrus zest into the fold late. I love a wine with personality and this one has a whole lot of it. It's on my buy list for February.

I'm not sure what my allocation will be but you are welcome to join in. I might be able to finagle a few extra bottles.

Reply by outthere, Dec 20, 2012.

The Halcon on the third night.


Notes from night 3. Deep dark purple. Nose showing lots of dark fruit, roasted meat and violets. Dense texture with tart blackberry, iron, charcoal and abundant chalky tannins. Took all of 3 days to show its stuff. Still very young but a joy to peek at. Potential to go many years but man is it good right now. Each mouthful is more than a mouthful. So much goodness in a small taste. Really digging this mountain fruit.
Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 20, 2012.

OT, I will take you up on that to insure a bottle or two of the Quivet, but I'm probably going to also take a shot a week after the "repeat buyer" offer, when I am eligible, so I can get my name on the repeat buyer list for the future.  As for the Halcon, I think we should up the buy next time to two cases mixed--or I'll just buy a full case on my own.  I predict within a couple years they will be just as hard to get as Mike's Quivet and Myriad. Not to mention the price will probably start rising. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 20, 2012.

BTW, just noticed that in the background of the picture at the top of the thread you can see a Cabot cork.  The answer to JD's question was there all along.  (There were Copains a-plenty in the photo, too.  OT drinks awfully well.)

So the NYE lineup is going to include the Lagier-Meredith '07 that JD gave me (wonder if I could run an airport shuttle service that took payment in wine?) or an '05 Hartford Outer Limits. We'll see what my friend has in mind.

Reply by EMark, Dec 23, 2012.

Well, I received notification from Halcon that my three bottles of Syrah will be shipped next Wednesday.

This leads me to a rather esoteric question. I am pretty fussy about pronunciations.  I hate mispronouncing words--especially, names.  So does one of the following best describe the pronunciation of Halcon?

  • HAL sohn
  • HAL kohn
  • HAL kahn

Or, maybe I am ignoring that diacritical mark over the o and and stressing the wrong syllable.  Would one of these be more appropriate?

  • hal SOHN
  • hal KOHN
  • hal KAHN



Reply by outthere, Dec 23, 2012.


Reply by Lucha Vino, Dec 23, 2012.

Washington has some good Syrah mojo happening.  Some people are proclaiming Syrah as the next "it" grape from our state.

If you are curious, here are a few to look for at a variety of price points:






Rotie Cellars

McRea Cellars





I'm not sure how much distribution these wineries have so it might be hard to find outside of Washington.  You can always buy direct...

As I made this list it was interesting to note that most of these wineries are located in Walla Walla which is one of the hottest regions in Washington!


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