Photo by kasei via Flickr
I tasted today at Pax Mahle’s new venture, Wind Gap, and his Syrah stood out from the other wines, particularly from Griffin’s Lair Vineyard. That’s to be expected since his method is almost the same as when he made wine, and built his reputation, at his eponymous winery. The difference is the fruit is not picked so late to make almost over the top wines that have challenges aging and staying in balance. I was impressed with his evolution as a winemaker and will post my notes on all the wines tasted shortly.
But as I tasted the rich yet aggressively mineral Griffin’s Lair Syrah I reflected on how difficult this wine would be to sell. First, this is not a wine someone new to wine would appreciate. Complex in aroma with plenty of bacon and black and blue fruits, the flavors are tight with a minerality that make it difficult for many mainstream wine drinkers to appreciate. But this Syrah was one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time and more closely paralleled Syrah from the Rhône. And it’s price, $48, seems very fair for the quality.
Even with that going for it, Syrah at this level is challenging to sell and I can’t figure out why. So when I read Gerald Boyd’s post at winereviewonline.com today I was hoping there would be something there that explained it. Sadly, he’s as perplexed as me.
So what’s the deal?
via Wine Review Online
I have blogged and podcasted several notes for Pax Cellars Syrah over the years so I was looking forward to revisiting this producer for my birthday dinner last night. The producer has been in a state of flux over the past year or so with winemaker Pax Mahle leaving in the summer of 2008 but my stock of Pax wines were produced and bottled (I assume) before these troubles began. I tasted many of these wines in barrel and blogged them for Wine Blogging Wednesday 30 almost 3 years ago now so I was wondering what had become of them. Would these wines continue to evolve and gain complexity in bottle or would the substantial fruit yield to the high alcohol?
Let me preface this review with a note about the Pax, Walker Vine Hill, Syrah from 2004 that I tasted earlier this year but have yet to blog. This wine, although brimming with fruit and complexity, was overwhelmed by it’s 15.5% alcohol leaving the resulting wine out of balance and a bit disappointing. Wine is a living beast and changes over time. I could have opened that bottle at a time when it was closed down and it could return to offer more of what I expected in the future. Then again, it could be over the hill. Such are the risks when signing up for the Pax high wire act.
What I appreciate most about these wines is the uncompromising approach Pax Mahle took. After rigorous vineyard practices, the grapes were trod under foot and fermented with native yeast. After light pressing, the wine was put in barrel where it was only racked before bottling. Such minimal practices are old school Burgundian but Pax practiced them with Rhone varieties in single vineyards in California. Syrah was his jewel. This uncompromising approach made for a fair amount of production sold on the bulk market which probably had something to do with Mr. Mahle’s departure. But in the end, what matters is in the glass.
Pax Wine Cellars, Syrah, Alder Springs, 2005 ($55) – Opaque purple-garnet in the glass with aromas of blackberry, bacon, chaparral and black licorice. Rich and concentrated blackberry and black raspberry fruit in the mouth with white pepper and mint finishing long with firm tannins. A very well balanced and delicious New World Syrah. I would cellar for at least another 5 years or decant for 3 hours before serving.
Natural cork closure
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