The big story for the Rhone-minded this year is a great spike in the quality of California Syrah. Not all of it by any means, but whether due to the chill of 2011 or a partial weeding-out of the less than obsessive, now is a time to take heart about the state of this wonderful but often under-loved grape.
Grenache continues to show its virtues, as does Mourvedre. In all, it adds up to a terrific time to be enjoying these varieties – and to discover both old terroirs like Napa’s Phoenix Ranch and new ones like Mark Adams’ patch of Paso Robles.
2011 Drew Family Valenti Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Syrah ($45, 12.8%): Jason and Molly Drew are less well known for Syrah, but this parcel at the western border of Anderson Valley shows the grape’s beauty on an obscure coastal edge. Tons of spice here – a mix of green and black peppercorns, and a mint-leaf freshness that builds on plum and wild blueberry fruit. Its savory side is astonishing in its depth, less meaty than minerally, with perfect focus in its flavors.
The Madrones sits in the middle of nearly nowhere, a Mediterranean mansion and gardens on Hwy. 128 in Philo. But the luxury B&B complex with shops and wine tasting rooms has attracted a notable chef, Patrick Meany, who is opening a trattoria named Stone & Embers there later this month.