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Cool Climate California Syrah
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Aug 30, 2016
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Presqu’ile Winery, Santa Maria Valley (California), Syrah, Presqu’ile Vineyard 2013 ($35):  Although Syrah is one of the world’s greatest red wine grapes, the diversity of wine styles that Syrah produces has complicated wine drinkers’ enthusiasm for Syrah wine.  At one end of the spectrum are majestic Northern Rhône wines such as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte Rôtie, and power-packed Barossa Valley Shirazes; at the other end of the spectrum are what the Brits would call “cheap and cheerful” supermarket reds.  The range of styles is confusing enough to turn a wine drinker to Cabernet instead.

In California, Syrah has had its ups and downs over the years -- up in plantings through the mid-2000s, down in wine popularity thereafter.  Now some California Syrahs are trending up in critics’ eyes.  These are the Syrah wines from cool climates such as coastal Sonoma County and the cool western part of Santa Barbara County.  Unlike Syrah wines from warmer climates, these wines are not jammy or baked in flavor but instead boast purity and precision of savory, spicy character.

Presqu’ile Winery’s vineyard-designated estate Syrah is a recent entry in the ranks of California’s cool-climate Syrahs.  The 2013 vintage, the current release, is only the third vintage of this wine, from vines planted in 2009.  Already the wine impresses me for its sleekness, suppleness and terrific balance of flavor to structure.

Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL) is a small, family-operated winery in the Santa Maria Valley AVA in northwestern Santa Barbara County.  In 2007, the Murphy family purchased a 200-acre property just 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, at altitudes from 700 to 1000 feet.  Eleven acres had been planted to Pinot Noir in 2001; the Murphys planted an additional 60-plus acres, mainly to Pinot Noir followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  At 6.5 acres of vines, Syrah is a secondary focus at Presqu’ile, but the cool, maritime climate and generous sun exposure befit Syrah.  Co-founder Matt Murphy explains that although Presqu’ile Syrah is very much a cool-climate Syrah, “Because of …the amount of hang-time [our climate] provides, our grapes continue to develop phenolic ripeness even when they are not accumulating sugar.  This results in elegant and complex wines with low pHs, exceptionally balanced natural acidity and intense flavors.” 

The 2013 Presqui’le estate Syrah in fact is only 12.4 percent alcohol, and yet its flavors are ripe and fully formed.  The wine has a rich aroma of dark plums and berries with minor notes of sweet spice, black pepper, flower and graphite-like minerality.  In the mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied, with seductively smooth texture, firm acidity for depth, and concentrated, pronounced flavors that echo the wine’s aromas.  Almost like a Pinot Noir, the wine has only a moderate amount of tannin relative to its fruit; these include polished tannins from oak and soft, velvety grape tannins which together anchor the wine’s structure.   Altogether it is a Syrah of flavor, balance and finesse, in a round, savory-spicy style.

Winemaking involved whole cluster fermentation for half of the grapes, which seems to have contributed to the complexity, brightness and freshness of the flavor.  The wine aged 22 months in French oak, one third of which was new; the discreet use of new oak is admirable. 

In my opinion, this 2013 Syrah is a wine for medium-term consumption, now to five years or so in the future.

92 Points