James Laube shared some high-octane reds from his cellar over the weekend. And they were outstanding. They included 2004 Turley Petite Sirah Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard, 2004 Pride Syrah Sonoma County and 2002 Lewis Alec's Blend Napa Valley. They all shared flamboyant fruit and luscious velvety tannins and long finishes. Sure, they could improve with age, but they were so up-front and exciting that I couldn’t really see why they shouldn’t be enjoyed now.
I liked the Pride Syrah the best due to its slightly more reserved style compared to the other two. 92 points, non-blind. The others I scored 91 points. There’s really nothing very subtle about these wines. They were pretty in-your-face, sort of like listening to some old songs from Aerosmith compared to U2, or something like that. But “they are what they are,” as Laube explained. And you have to love them for their honest fruit.
Laube was joking around and asking me if I thought they didn’t have enough alcohol for big California reds. I think the Turley was over 15 degrees with the Lewis and Pride just under. But in all honesty, I found the wines balanced. They didn’t burn or seem overly alcoholic.
The debate continues about California wines being overly rich and alcoholic. I, of course, have tasted some reds, and whites for that matter, that are like that. But most, even with relatively high alcohol levels, seem balanced to me. And very enjoyable, especially with a juicy grilled steak like at Laube’s house.
I think that some people have forgotten the 1980s, when many wine producers in California miserably attempted to emulate the great reds of France, or make “food wines.” They picked their grapes earlier than today with lower levels of potential alcohol. Some even acidified their wines. And they had very green and austere tannins as well. It was a failed period for many winemakers in the Golden State. And for consumers, it certainly meant fewer high quality California wines in general.
As a born and raised Californian, I think that California should do what it does best ... make sunny, opulent and interesting wines. Be what they are, as my colleague Laube says.