Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Is it time for the Tasting of Tain? 2014

Posted by Richard Foxall, Mar 21, 2014.

I love N. Rhone Syrah.  It's my favorite red wine in France.  But the acreage of the region is so small and the area that provide its best wines even smaller, that prices have hit the roof.  Sure, there are a few St. Josephs and Crozes-Hermitages that come in around $25, but those are either made for earlier drinking and a lot less thrilling with age (St. Joseph) or widely variable and more like some of the fruit-driven Aussie or Central Coast Shiraz/Syrah wines.  Not always as bombastic, but not like the wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotie.  A few years ago, I bought Colombier's appellation labeled Hermitage for under $40.  It's not the most well-known producer and it is an appellation wine, but keep in mind that Colombier is family owned, gets high praise from RP and all of Hermitage is small and somewhat homogeneous.  It seemed a fair bit of money, but a fair price at the time.  And the wine was delicious. 

Today I got an email from HartDavisHart touting N. Rhones and only one was under $100.  Somehow, a St. Joseph for $60 didn't seem like a bargain.  All the C-R and Hermitage wines were over $125.  Some of these were highly collectible or had significant age on them, but those bottles were between several hundred and thousands of dollars.  Now you're getting into the Latour/Petrus investment range (and maybe the DRC counterfeiting range).  I feel lucky that I got to try a well-aged Hermitage last October when I met David Parker, CEO of Benchmark Wine Group.  Unfortunately, that's probably the only way I'll ever be able to drink one of those, unless I want to cancel my family's summer vacation.

When Bordeaux first growths started resting on their laurels and pricing themselves out of reach, Spurrier invited the California upstarts to bring their Cabernet to the party.  And while those California wines, and a few even more expensive cult wines since, aren't as cheap as they were, you can still imagine drinking them, not just waiting to cash out when the market gets even crazier. 

Is it time for a tasting of Tain to see how the best California Syrah stacks up?  I see a couple problems.  First, the whole "Judgment of..." format has been done to death and has less shock value and even less credibility.  Second, the California wine business has expanded greatly with so many players it would be hard to choose.  As a subset of that concern, Syrah in California (or Washington) is more dispersed than Cab was in the 1970s, with many small producers making the better bottles.  Third, California Syrah doesn't seem to have coalesced around one style. That can also be said to a degree for the Rhone, but the Hermitage and C-R appellations (and to some degree Cornas) have a pretty fundamental character of savory, meaty wines with strong but refined tannic structure and dark fruits, violets, and pretty well defined secondary characteristics. Of course, there's always the question of who participates and whether this kind of exercise ever makes sense.

What seems clear is that some group of producers makes really good Syrah in Northern California along those lines; if there was to be a "Tasting of Tain," or "Judgment of Sonoma," who would you enter from the West Coast side?  I'd be interested in hearing from people with a good deal of experience with both N. Rhone and US Syrah, but I'm also interested in what people would like to taste if they were given the opportunity to try some of those unapproachably expensive Rhones.

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 21, 2014.

Toward the high end I have a 2010 Jamet Cote Rotie, and a '10 Allemand Cornas Chaillot

Also some more '11 Gonon for St. Joseph.

I'd be more interested in the N. Rhone program than CA, though there are some that would interest me. I have an '11 Carlisle James Berry I could produce, as well as a '12 Bedrock  Sonoma Coast. Others of interest figure to be Cabot, Myriad/Quivet Las Madres

Are we pegging October at your house again, Fox?

Reply by GregT, Mar 22, 2014.

Fox - I've done that tasting a number of times. Depending on who you pick from CA, you can win, place, show, or bomb out. I've tasted through a number of Hermitage wines, doing tastes of the 97s, 99s, 2005s and 2008s, and comparable Cote Rotie, which I have more of. For the CR, the Guigal B&B is often the one to beat IMO - it's just a good wine and done blind, holds its own against more expensive wines.

From CA it's hard to say, but if you get some of the vineyards on the cliffs you get some real interesting wines. Arnot Roberts, Donelan, Peay, Failla, those guys seem to get it. Also you don't want to forget Edmund St John and Qupe, both of which put out Syrah that can stand in N. Rhone any day.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2014.

Besides Greg's names,  how about Wind Gap? Copain? Certain Tablas Creek offerings down south, and Cayuse from up north (missed by GDP in his recent travels to Walla Walla and environs, though understandable since it is a bit culty)?! Finally, would love to see responses if a La Sangre de Jonata from Santa Barbara were thrown into the mix. Figure it and the Cayuse can be budgeted against the HDH sampler members... ;-(

All brownbagged, right?

Reply by outthere, Mar 22, 2014.

I think I have a coupe Syrahs in my cellar 😉

Reply by duncan 906, Mar 22, 2014.

I also like Northern Rhones and have recently aquired three via one of my favourite websites.I hope I do not make Foxall too jealous

Reply by GregT, Mar 22, 2014.

Dmucker - Cayuse makes a few bottlings. That's an interesting one because I'm not sure where I'd put them. but they may fit in. Copain isn't quite in that group, but I do like their wines - recently went through a case because they have big bottoms and I was running out of boxes.I'm no expert, but after 15 wines from different vineyards, I think I get their wines now. 

there's also another category that is very different but that I kind of like - big, tannic wines. Not fruit bombs, just big wines with a lot more tannin than you often find. THose might include Fisher from Napa and HdV - interesting style.

And BTW, we should include Lagier-Meredith. Those are some of the best around IMHO.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2014.

Think I understand where you're coming from on the Copain, Greg. Actually hesitated before including it in my post above. In my role as muck stirrer, I decided to just toss it in. As I'm now asking about Scholium (Hudson) and SQN, too.  Hell, even Ojai Vineyard (or Neyers and even Phelps if we're staying with warmer locales, though the latter is interesting to me more for historical reasons). And if you're including uncertain-percentage syrah blends, why not  throw Sean Thackrey in the mix, too--who would his counterpart be over in France?  ;-)  Abe Schoener's could always be himself, of course.

Isn't California fun? All these in someone on these boards' back yard. A helluva a lot better than, say, those wines on Long Island near where you used to be located. Where you are now it's too bad Temecula didn't have just a bit more to offer. Though if you time the traffic right Santa Barbara and Ojai aren't too far off, and the drive can be a most pleasant one once you zip up then get off the freeways. Or better yet start at dawn and suck up all that sea air on the way via PCH with sunroof and windows open if no convertible at hand. Oh, and speaking of Thackrey, someone I was sitting next to a night or two ago mentioned a place (or places) called 3rd Corner in San Diego for eating and purchasing wine--said they even have some Thackrey offerings, which must mean they aren't BevMo...


Outthere cracks me up:  "I think I have a coupe Syrahs in my cellar "

I'll bet. Wonder what they all are at this point in time (not to mention what they might've been if he'd been able to resist infanticide and most-immediate gratification on rainy days or not)...  ;-)




Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2014.

One more stir to the pot. Where are you going to do it? In Tain??

Have to admit yesterday morning when I first looked at this thread the penny didn't immediately drop regarding the named locale. My first thought (especially since there'd been too much single malt the night before and I hadn't had any coffee yet) was of here, and the men of Tain:



Not always the warmest of climes, and the wind will make the hardiest of golfers curse, even if pulling together a rugby scrum might be easy, especially in a local after a lot of that nectar I cut my whisky teeth on flows. So maybe not the best of locales for Fox's Judgment. Or should we already start calling it l'arrêt de renard (or better yet jugement, or perhaps even discernement)?

Then, of course I realized I should be thinking instead of here:

Although the sky above the signpost made me think we still must be in the northern Highlands.

So where the venue? Guess sunnier California is likely to win. Either a friendly wine shop or a restaurant that's off the beaten track (thus quieter) but still worthy. Perhaps something north of the Bay that qualifies by serving Thackrey wines (nice filter, that) in, say, Olema if not all the way up to Arcata or Albion (though I never used to have to have excuses for roadtrips to Mendocino).  I'll be with you guys in spirit if not body....

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 22, 2014.

Lagier Meredith, of course. Have plent of that to share as does OT I imagine.

I don't see any SQN showing up as Im usually tasked with bringing that kind of thing and am not motivated to do. I will say the '05 Atlantis was one of the more memorable wines I've tasted though.

Ojai a good pick from the southern limits and I suppose we should represent something from the White Hawk vineyard in Santa Barbara, which I'd be obliged to do.

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 22, 2014.

By the way, nice post D. Last year Fox played host to a Pinot Noir Throwdown to great success. We'll have to see if he's up for an encore.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2014.

Thanks for the link, Jon. Looks like Fox took on a hella task, but a most certainly very good time was had by all.

I assume Outthere's earlier thread Focusing on Cool Climate Syrah is also pertinent. 

Reply by outthere, Mar 22, 2014.

Yeah D, I got a couple:

  • 2007 Château de Beaucastel Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel
  • 2011 Carlisle Two Acres
  • 2006 Clos Chanteduc Côtes du Rhône
  • 2008 Donelan Cuvée Moriah
  • 2007 Epoch Estate Wines Ingenuity Paderewski Vineyard 
  • 2009 Wind Gap Wines Orra 
  • 2007 Agharta Wines Black Label Alder Springs Vineyard
  • 2011 Apsara Cellars Syrah Las Madres Vineyard
  • 2010 Arnot-Roberts Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard
  • 2010 Arnot-Roberts Syrah Clary Ranch 
  • 2011 Arnot-Roberts Syrah Clary Ranch 
  • 2009 Arnot-Roberts Syrah North Coast 
  • 2012 Arnot-Roberts Syrah North Coast 
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Griffin's Lair 
  • 2011 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Griffin's Lair 
  • 2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Kick Ranch 
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Kick Ranch 
  • 2011 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Kick Ranch 
  • 2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Lauterbach Hill Russian River Valley 
  • 2011 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah North Coast 
  • 2012 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah North Coast 
  • 2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Old Lakeville Vineyard 
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Pleine de Chene Hudson Vineyard
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Sonoma Coast 
  • 2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Sonoma Coast 
  • 2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah T 'n' S Hudson Vineyard South 
  • 2011 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah T 'n' S Hudson Vineyard South 
  • 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah T Block Hudson Vineyard 
  • 2007 Cabot Vineyards Syrah Humboldt County 
  • 2008 Carlisle Syrah Cardiac Hill 
  • 2009 Carlisle Syrah Cardiac Hill 
  • 2008 Carlisle Syrah Pelkan Ranch 
  • 2010 Carlisle Syrah Sonoma County 
  • 2011 Carlisle Syrah Steiner Vineyard 
  • 2010 Copain Syrah Baker Ranch 
  • 2009 Copain Syrah Brosseau Vineyard
  • 2010 Copain Syrah Brosseau Vineyard 
  • 2007 Copain Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch
  • 2008 Copain Syrah Halcon Vineyard
  • 2009 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard 
  • 2010 Copain Syrah Les Voisins 
  • 2011 Copain Syrah Les Voisins 
  • 2010 Copain Syrah Tous Ensemble 
  • 2006 DeLille Cellars Syrah Doyenne 
  • 2009 Four Cairn Syrah 
  • 2010 Four Cairn Syrah
  • 2011 Four Cairn Syrah 
  • 2009 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas 
  • 2010 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas 
  • 2011 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas 
  • 2002 Jade Mountain Syrah Paras Vineyard 
  • 2004 Jade Mountain Syrah Paras Vineyard 
  • 2008 Jemrose Gloria's Gem 
  • 2007 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley
  • 2008 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley 
  • 2008 Kale Wines Syrah Samantha's Vineyard 
  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Syrah 
  • 2011 Myriad Cellars Syrah 100% Whole Cluster Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
  • 2012 Myriad Cellars Syrah 100% Whole Cluster Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard 
  • 2010 Myriad Cellars Syrah Esther Block Las Madres Vineyard 
  • 2011 Myriad Cellars Syrah Esther Block Las Madres Vineyard 
  • 2006 Pax Syrah Eastern Ridge 
  • 2007 Pax Syrah Obsidian Vineyard 
  • 2006 Pax Syrah The Terraces Alder Springs Vineyard 
  • 2011 Quivet Cellars Syrah Hulda Block Las Madres Vineyard 
  • 2007 Bodega Rancho Syrah Thieriot 
  • 2003 Rhys Alesia Syrah Sonoma Coast 
  • 2005 Roar Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands 
  • 2008 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Griffin's Lair 
  • 2009 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Griffin's Lair 
  • 2009 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Majik Vineyard 
  • 2008 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Sonoma Coast 
  • 2009 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Sonoma Coast 


Reply by dmcker, Mar 22, 2014.

Sheesh, is that all?

Seein' some very interesting vertical vs. horizontal matrices there...

I'm also seeing that you don't believe in laying your bottles down for all that long.

And how is Pax (the label) these days?

I am confident I can find good Rhone options over here in Japan. Only issue, unfortunately, is price.

Reply by GregT, Mar 23, 2014.

I guess OT likes his Syrah!

D - I wouldn't include SQN in the mix. That's thick, eat-it-with-a-spoon kind of wine. And as luck would have it, I do have one or two. But most of my Syrah from CA gets consumed pretty fast - I have a few Pax and the aformentioned Napa wines, and the bulk of it is from France. But it's 1990 - 1999, with a smattering of more recent vintages.


Reply by outthere, Mar 24, 2014.

It's not a belief Dmcker, it's out of necessity as I cannot afford to purchase the amount of wine needed to be able to lay them down more than 4 years or so. At least that is true based on my consumption rate and I'm not ready to slow down just yet.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 24, 2014.

Wow, a lively thread.  Been away from the boards for a few.

I was thinking more that it's time for a professional like Spurrier to take something like this on, although the pros ignore these kinds of things now, methinks.  But I'm certainly game to try to put something together.

And, for those who crowded around the table in October, you'll be interested to know that we have met with an architect to draw plans to enlarge the house.  Key feature was moving the front door to face the street and designing the entry so that the dining table can be extended to host large groups.  The architect wondered how often we have so many people in a small house, but acceded to our wishes and came up with a good design.  Our current table says it seats 8, can handle 10 pretty comfortably, but we're talking sit down service for 16-18 comfortably.  Did I mention the excavation for the basement that will add room for storing stemware and, in a temp controlled environment, wine?  Alas, this will eat up all the wine budget for a while.

If it happens, we'll be unable to host anything for quite a while.  But we can also work with something offsite.

Reply by outthere, Mar 24, 2014.

If folks are Ok with driving up (or down, or over, or out) to Sonoma County I would be more than happy to host a Syrah Day/Evening. Been wanting to do a Halcon Alturas Vertical anyhow.

Alaska flies direct to Santa Rosa from LAX. Not the cheapest route but when you factor in the cost of a rental car and travel time from SFO/OAK it's not so bad. Airport is 10 min from my front door.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 24, 2014.

I'll bring the Mazda5 and we'll put the smallest folks in the back seat.  For a short ride from Sonoma Airport, five passengers and me is doable.  That airport really is right down the road from OT and close to the freeway.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 24, 2014.

Funny thing is most of us would probably bring a wine that OT recommended.  I think I could muster up a Hartford Family (which is practically walking distance from his home), a Bell, a Rockpile, and some Cornas that he doesn't already have, but the majority of my Syrah probably was bought with him or on his recommendation.

Reply by EMark, Mar 24, 2014.

Like others, the Syrahs that I have are OT-influenced.  I do have some Ojais, but the '06 White Hawk was dispatched a couple weeks ago.  I have to agree it was a winner.

Really weak on N. Rhones.

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