Peerless Wine: 2012 Estate Syrah

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T H E  L E A D  U P
2012 was a dream vintage in which nature seemingly telegraphed every move. Ruben and Sashi coordinated La Cuadrilla in routine all-night pickings through late October to deliver fruit at the peak of bright-ripeness.
When Ruben Solorzano handed off the last load of 2012 Syrah to Sashi Moorman he reported to me with a broad smile “I gave Sashi perfect fruit, now it’s his turn to make perfect wine.”

And that’s exactly what Sashi did.

T H E  P R O C E S S
The winery team took a hands off approach and let the magic of 2012 shine through.
The grapes went into our brand new open top concrete fermenters, unsulfured, and 50% whole-cluster. On average, each lot spent three weeks natively fermenting on the skins until the free-run juice was transferred to 500 liter french puncheons, 15% of which were new. After 11 months, Sashi made his final assemblage decisions and he transferred the wine into larger tanks to rest and integrate another 10 months. Throughout its life, the wine was only racked twice and we bottled it un-fined and unfiltered.
Sashi chose to make the wine monocepage, 100% Syrah. At harvest, he passed on Viognier co-fermentation to avoid adulterating the perfect fruit. Later in blending sessions, Sashi again decided against blending any Grenache or Roussanne into the wine, a departure from the 2011 cuvee.

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T H E  R E S U L T
Packaged in the new Ballard Canyon etched Syrah bottle and updated label, the change in appearance signifies the entirely new playing field for Estate Syrah. On rare occasions do I come across a wine that smells so good I don’t need to taste it, instead satisfied with taking deep breathes, nose stuck into the stem. This wine is one of them.
The wine is darker than previous vintages despite no extra effort to extract skin pigment. The predominant aromas reflect the color in showing primarily black and purple fruits with lighter red on the periphery. If I had to pick an actual smell, I would pin fresh berries over heavy cream. Woodiness lingers behind the attractive perfume integrated through fermenting on dry-farmed stems rather than aging in new oak. As the bottle opens up, more vervy red fruit shines through the nose and the wine gains complexity. To appreciate more of what the 2012 Estate Syrah has to offer, decant or open an hour prior to serving.
When I finally get around to tasting the wine, the body flows smoothly through the mouth without rustic textures often present in our young Syrahs. The wine already shows great integration but I sense pent up energy. This wine will further blossom in the coming few years. There is a touch of bloodiness backed by graphite on the finish. Fruit persists long after swallowing and although noticeably dry, the tannins are already fine.
As I savor the flavor, I think of our dirt, the fine clay dust and crunch of churned Limestone chunks. Part of the dry chalkiness on the after-taste comes from the 50% whole-cluster fermentation.

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T H E  P R O B L E M  O F  T H E  P E E R L E S S  W I N E
I do realize the superlative and aggrandizing nature of my description. Usually I would pick a wine to draw a comparison to the 2012 Estate Syrah. Having exhausted attempts to find true old world peers, I popped Arnot Roberts 2012 Clary Ranch Syrah, and WindGap Nellessen Vineyard Syrah in search of commonality. These are the two of the most praised wines in the realm of Cali Syrah, and two of my favorite, uncompromising producers. Being from extremely cold sights in Sonoma County, both push the limits of low-alcohol new world wine. The Sonoma Syrahs have attractive aromas, but show much lighter and punchy on the palate; certainly the same species, but different breeds. The glycerol richness of slightly higher alcohol from Ballard Canyon couches any astringency to give more float through the palate.
Stolpman’s 2012 Syrahs place the Estate on its own pedestal between the Old World and the typical New World while the two Sonoma Syrahs push further towards the old. In comparison, Ballard Canyon will never truly be known as “cool climate” and the winery program will never be part of the current trend of low alcohol red wines 11-13 degrees in alcohol. Ballard Canyon fruit simply ripens at higher alcohols. On the other end of the spectrum, the Estate Syrah’s balance and freshness separate it from the pack of over-oaked and over-ripe wines in California’s recent past.

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I look forward to trying my Ballard Canyon neighbors’ 2012 Syrahs with hopes that our fellow winemakers have nailed this perfect vintage alongside Sashi. One thing is for sure, this is the most refined, precise, and delicious Estate Syrah ever to come from Stolpman Vineyards, Enjoy!