Saxum has a new-look label, with wood block prints. But more importantly, the new releases are its best wines ever.
Aside from winemaker Justin Smith’s personal achievements, which are momentous, his wines are vital to his hometown of Paso Robles because they show what can be accomplished in this still new and evolving appellation.
Last week I tasted all five of Smith’s Rhône Valley-inspired reds and for me these (along with one tasted earlier) are the best wines he’s made, period.
The Saxum style is still the same. The reds, blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mouvèdre, are bold, ripe, opulent and high in alcohol. Yet the 2005s exhibits greater finesse, elegance, restraint and detail, all part of a conscious effort by Smith to draw on lessons from the past.
For one, he says, “I’m not trying to make [the wines] super big and powerful. We’ve dialed in on the vineyard, we’re not picking as ripe, but still getting ripe flavors and we’re aiming for more finesse … ripeness without excess … purity and freshness.” He has also backed off on wood, aging his wines in 116 gallon puncheons, rather than smaller oak barrels.
While his 2002 and 2001 James Berry Vineyard bottlings earned 93-point ratings, and were rich, potent wines, the 2002 and 2003 wines pursued ripeness too far for me, straying into racy sweet-sour berry flavors. Then having seen how his early wines aged, Smith began to tinker with the wines, and the 2004s were better balanced.
Following are my impressions of the 2005s. (Official notes and scores based on my blind tastings will be published later.)
Booker Vineyard Paso Robles 2005 ($55, 350 cases): This blend of Syrah and Grenache features wonderful aromas of rich chocolaty blackberry and boysenberry with a touch of huckleberry. Dense and concentrated
Rocket Block James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2005 ($75, 250): Rocket Block stays in orbit, with amazing fruit purity and tiers of dark berry fruit. A blend of Grenache and Syrah.
Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2005 ($75, 350 cases): Dense and concentrated, firm blackberry and chocolate flavors show off both the Syrah and Grenache.
Heart Stone Vineyard Paso Robles 2005 ($55, 500 cases): Makes points for its subtlety and finesse, a charming style, with rich layers of dried currant, sage, fresh earth, mineral and light cedary oak. Holds its focus and ends with a complex aftertaste. Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.
James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles 2005 ($55, 600 cases): The tightest, with a spicy talclike berry and fresh earth mix of flavors. Syrah, Mouvèdre and Grenache.
Broken Stones Paso Robles 2005 ($45, 600 cases): Grapey blackberry and wild berry flavors have a spicy, dusty, cedary oak edge that give it woody mouthfeel, yet the finish is long and persistent. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre.
These wines reaffirm Saxum’s position as one of the best producers of Rhône-style reds in California, and certainly it is inspirational to taste what can be made from great grapes in Paso Robles.