I started out with a plan. It actually wasn’t Syrah. The plan was dinner and a Roussanne. We have spent a couple weeks doing research on Syrah and were almost complete. Our next varietal to focus on is Roussanne and we were going to start with that tonight. But…it got a little cloudy out and it was feeling a little cold and rather than the seafood companion to the Roussanne, we wanted something a little warmer and cozier.
I came across a post on my Twitter from Bonny Doon of two of their Syrah’s the 2013 Bien Nacido and the 2013 Le Pousseur. I was inspired and pretty sure I had a Le Pousseur in the cellar, so I did a little pairing research on the Bonny Doon site, and Randall Grahm their winemaker, suggests lamb chops with chimichurri. I don’t do lamb, (can’t eat baby animals) so I look a little further on the web for pairing advice and see sirloin as a pairing. Off we go to shop for dinner. We pick up a marinated sirloin with a chimichurri sauce! Upon arriving at home, I head down to grab the wine, only to find, well, to not find, the Le Pousseur. We must have already enjoyed that bottle! Luckily, we have a few other Syrahs (that’s kind of an understatement). So I debate between a 2013 Carhartt and a 2014 Larner Transverse. Both are from Santa Barbara County. Finally I decide that with a Tablas Creek 2014 Syrah already open, we might as well do a side by side with all 3.
2014 Tablas Creek Syrah
At Tablas Creek in Paso Robles they have 4 clones of Syrah that were brought from France, from Chateau du Beaucastel. They planted these in 1994, so the vines are almost in their mid 20’s. The 2014 is the tenth bottling of this single varietal that they have done. This was fermented in open-top fermenters and was aged in a mix of smaller newer barrels (note that they are “newer” not “New”) and Neutral 1200- gallon foudres for 20 months. It is 100% Syrah and sits at 14.6% alcohol. If you are familiar with Rhône Syrahs, they say this wine is “more Cote Rotie than Cornas,”. Only 800 cases were produced. Visit https://tablascreek.com/ for all the details.
You will also find Vintage Charts (I love these) on their site, to let you know where their wines are at drinkability wise. Many of the Tablas Creek Wines are meant to age. They taste through their wines and update the vintage chart annually. The chart will let you know if the wine needs more aging, is drinking well but is youthful, is mature, is in a closed phase, if it’s time to drink it now, before it passes it’s prime or if you have waited too long. It will also tell you if they currently recommend decanting the wine.
2013 Carhartt Syrah
This Syrah comes from Rancho Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. Carhartt prints all the good geeky details right on the back label and I love them for that! This vineyard is just 10 acres and sits on a mesa in the Santa Ynez Valley. The wine is 100% Syrah from clones 470 & 174 on 1103p Rootstock and 877 & Estrella clones on 5c rootstock. It is grown on vertical trellis. It is sustainably farmed, and fermented in small lots with a cold soak, punch downs and pump overs & gently pressed. It spends 17 months in barrel (35% new french oak). It sits at 13.5% alcohol. This wine is unfined and unfiltered and only 435 cases were made.
To learn a little more about Carhartt head to their website http://carharttvineyard.com On the home page you will find a digital magazine, written by Chase Carhartt. He will tell you the history of this small family business, where they produce only 5000 cases of wine per year and are dedicated making quality wine and treating customers like family. Their tasting room in Los Olivos is only 99 square feet, making it the tiniest tasting room, but then there is the back patio, which is the best place to be a 5 pm in Los Olivos.
2014 Larner Transverse
Michael Larner has a background as a Geologist, so his labels and names for his wine stem from this background. Transverse is the name for his Syrah that is not an estate wine.
“Transverse: A geologic structure lying or extending across an area, in a cross direction to other distinguishing local features” From his blog post on this wine
This wine is a blend of Syrah from across Santa Barbara County. The grapes come from 4 estates spread across the area: Verna’s vineyard is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley, Coquelicot vineyard sits in the southern part of the Santa Ynez AVA east of Solvang, Rodney’s vineyard is in the Northern part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA on Foxen Canyon Road (at Fess Parker) and Star Lane vineyard is in the Eastern most part of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon AVA. So these vineyards span the area and all sit outside the Ballard Canyon AVA, where Larner Vineyard is located.
The grapes for this wine were harvested between October 1st and November 10th, 2014. It was aged for 14 months in 100% neutral french oak puncheons and then spent 4 months in bottle before it was released. It sits at 14.7% Alcohol.
“100% Syrah, 10% Whole Cluster. All vineyard lots were fermented individually, macerated for a total of 15 days, initiated fermentation using native yeast, later inoculated with BM 45 yeast and pumped over 1x per day plus punched down 3x per day. Peak Temp averaged 86˚F.”
All these details can be found on the Larner site at http://www.larnerwine.com/product/2014-Transverse
2014 Tablas Creek Syrah
As you pour this wine you immediately notice how dark and opaque it is. The first thing I got when I stuck my nose in the glass was leather and earth, followed by dark fruit like black currants, folloowed by pepper and savory herbs. When I went back to it later, I was struck by the salinity and minerality that it gave off as it opened up. In my mouth it was tart blackberries with a bit of cranberry, you know that extra tartness and tannin you get from cranberries. It made my mouth water and my teeth dry just a little. It was mellow and the most food friendly of the wines.
2013 Carhartt Syrah
This wine was decidedly lighter as I poured it, and more translucent in the glass. The first thing I smelled here was wet straw and barnyard, followed by cranberries, red currants and brighter spices like white pepper. There were also light floral notes like violets. In my mouth it was a much lighter wine than the others and tasted of tart red apple skin and dark red berries. It numbed my gums a little without drying them. It had a strong medium finish. It heightened the spice in the chimichurri sauce without making it too hot.
2014 Larner Transverse
This wine was darker, like the Tablas Creek. Was this due to the 2014 Harvest? It also sits at 14.7 alcohol (the Tablas is 14.6 and the Carhartt 13.5), so perhaps the depth of color has something to do with the hang time? The nose was pepper and spice immediately followed by Eucalyptus, black currants and leather. In my mouth it was all rich red and black fruit with spice and bright bold pepper. The bright red fruit really hits you mid palate. It was tangy on the sides of my tougue and had a sweetness on the finish.
After tasting the wines, I was fascinated by the differences. Were the differences due to wine making techniques, the location of the vineyards, the vintage year and it’s weather? So I did a little digging and here is what I found out about the harvests.
About the Vintages
Paso Robles 2014 Harvest
2014 was the 3rd year of drought in Paso Robles. The yields across the area were down, although Tablas Creek’s Syrah Harvest yields were up by 13% over 2013. The year was noted for depth and concentration in the berries.
Santa Barbara County 2013 Harvest
While 2013 was the 2nd year of drought it was also the 2nd year of ideal growing conditions. It was a warm, dry growing season without any considerable heat spikes. It was an early harvest, starting on August 14th and like 2014 it was a fast harvest. A typical harvest is spread out over 3 months, 2013’s harvest lasted only 7 weeks. Yields were above average, with an early bud break and large fruit set.
Santa Barbara County 2014 Harvest
In Santa Barbara they had a shorter growing season. The winter was mild and harvest for many was the earliest ever. Harvest was also fast, with vineyards bringing in lots of fruit at the same time putting wineries into quite the scramble. For all intents and purposes it was a solid crop and the fruit had good intensity.
The areas that these wines come from spans around a hundred miles on California’s Central Coast. Tablas Creek is in the Paso Robles Region, while the Carhartt and Larner Syrahs are from the Santa Barbara Region.
Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, Adelaida AVA
Tablas Creek Vineyards is located in the Western Portion of the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida AVA. The elevations in this AVA are between 900 and 1200 feet for planted vineyards. Because they are the closest AVA to the Ocean, hot summer days are typically tempered by the Maritime influences. Warm days and cool nights are an ideal growing condition.
For more on the Adelaida AVA you can watch our interview with Jason Haas.
Carhartt Vineyard, Rancho Santa Ynez, Santa Ynez AVA
Carhartt Vineyard is located in Santa Barbara County. It is in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which is a larger AVA encompassing most of the southern part of Santa Barbara County. Within this AVA you find the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the West, Ballard Canyon AVA in the Central part of the area and the Happy Canyon AVA to the East. Carhartt Vineyard sits in Rancho Santa Ynez on a hill top.
Larner Wines Transverse, Santa Barbara County
This wine is called Transverse because it comes from 4 estate vineyards that span the Transverse Valley of the Santa Barbara Area. So…as you can see from the Map above it takes in multiple regions.
Verna’s Vineyard is in Los Alamos off of Cat Canyon Road. The vineyard was planted in 1999 by the Melville family and is now owned by Cat Canyon / Shokrian Vineyards. It is a or 100 acre parcel east of the 101 with warm winds and cool nights.
Rodney’s Vineyard is on the Fess Parker Ranch which is on the east side of Foxen Canyon Road. It is included in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA in it’s Northernmost region. Fess Parker, so well known as “Daniel Boone” bought the property in 1988. The vineyard is named after his late son-in-law.
Coquelicot Vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley, just east of Solvang. It is one of the Southern most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This 58 Acre vineyard is Certified Organic.
Star Lane Vineyard is located in the Happy Canyon AVA which is the furthest West region of the Santa Barbara area and as such the warmest. It sits north of Happy Canyon Road.
So, the differences in the wines? It could be the growing season and the fact that it was just the 2nd year of drought was part of what made the Carhartt a bit lighter. Or perhaps it was the wine making style. Or the type of soil in the vineyards (we didn’t even really talk about that variable!) And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was lighter than the other two was not a bad thing. It was lighter on my palate, but it was still full of flavor and nuance. This whole side by side tasting is about finding the nuanced differences in the wines and enjoying each for their uniqueness. There are differences in soils, in weather, in the clones, in the yeasts…Michael mentions inoculating with BM 35 yeast after the initial fermentation was started with native yeasts. Tablas Creek is all native yeast and I actually don’t have the details on the yeasts used on the Carhartt, as this is one of the few details that they don’t include on this label. The choice of when to harvest is dependent on the winemakers preference for ripeness typically, but for Michael Larner was harvesting from 4 vineyards that were not his own, which often can mean that you are subject to being harvested a little earlier or later than your preference depending on who else the vineyard is harvesting for at the time. Then there are the subtle differences of where the block is located within the vineyard and what time of sunlight and wind it gets. Really, there are just so many variables.
And that is what makes this beverage so fascinating. The variables all add up to a complex story in the glass. It’s a story of the place, of the soil, of the season, of the people… and it’s a delicious story.