MacRostie, Sonoma Coast (California) Syrah, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, 2005 ($34): I can get really excited about Syrah, but only certain expressions of it: Not the delicious, bright-fruity Southeastern Australian versions; not the supremely powerful, super-ripe wines that some Barossa Valley producers make; and not the dullish, baked-fruit wines that California used to make (and sometimes still does). I want weight in Syrah, but with sleekness, fresh fruity character, and complexity that goes beyond fruitiness -- characteristics that Syrah can have when the grapes grow in cool wine regions. Luckily for me, fanatics like Steve MacRostie are taking a gamble on growing Syrah in California's cool-climate fringes.
MacRostie Winery and Vineyards specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Carneros region. In 1997, ten years after the winery's first release, MacRostie partnered with Nancy and Tony Lilly to create Wildcat Mountain Vineyard on mountainside pastureland situated in the far southwestern part of Carneros, partly in the Sonoma Coast AVA territory. It is a foggy site that's also subject to cold winds and has sparse, volcanic soils -- a challenging terroir that brings real character to the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah grown there.
The 2005 Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Syrah is a marvelous wine that embodies what I find exciting about Syrah. It has lots of flavor and also lots of flavors, going way beyond fruitiness in the aroma/ flavor spectrum. It's big but not overbearing. It's sleek but has concentration and stuffing. It's delicious and it has character.
The nose is only medium intense, and so you need to breathe deeply and attentively at first to experience its riches. These include fresh blackberries, black pepper spice, a gamey nuance, a smoky note that you could call 'bacon,' and the sheerest overlay of oak. In your mouth, the wine expresses beautiful, ripe but fresh, dark fruit, mainly plum and blackberry; notes of gaminess, smoke, spice and even a slight vegetal note weave through the fruity backdrop. The wine is properly dry and is full-bodied with silky smooth texture that gives way to fine-grained tannin in the back of your mouth. The finish is long and flavorful. The wine provokes you to lift your glass to your nose and lips again and again, to figure out what you might discover in it this time.
MacRostie ferments his Syrah in open-top fermenters after a three-day cold soak to extract color. About 20% of the fruit went to the fermenters as whole clusters, which could account for the brightness of fruit expression as well as some of the peppery character. The wine aged for ten months in French and American oak barrels, 40% of which were new.
That this wine can be so fruity and yet not-just-fruity suggests a marriage of California grapes and French styling. The wine resembles a Northern Rhône, particularly Hermitage, in its fine tannins, aromatic range, and firm structure, but is softer, fruitier and more generous.
This wine is perfectly drinkable now and most likely has a good ten years ahead of it.