Fruit Bombs, Take a Back Seat to This Syrah
For lovers of powerful California Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s getting harder and harder to find quality that won’t break the bank. Today’s 2012 Skylark Syrah from Rodgers Creek Vineyard is a show-stopping alternative — a wine that easily competes on complexity and power with Bordeaux-variety wines selling for four or five times the price.
Adjacent to the famous Durell Vineyard, Rodgers Creek is where many of Sonoma’s top wineries, including Patz & Hall and Saintsbury, source their Syrah. Breezes off the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay cool the vines and extend hang-time, resulting in Syrah with massive ripe flavors and with alcohol levels in check. Syrah here often isn’t picked until late October or early November, long after many Napa Cabs are finished with their primary fermentation!
Syrah has thrived in the ancient volcanic soils of the Northern Rhône for at least the last 300 years, and a significant portion of the sub-soils at Rodgers Creek are quite similar. Additionally, the site was planted to old Rhône Valley clones of Syrah, known for their impeccable balance of fruit and savory flavors.
John Lancaster and Robert Perkins, Skylark’s founders, met while working together at the James Beard award-winning Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco. Both harbored a deep love for the great Old World masters of Rhône Valley Syrah. They talked about teaming up to make a wine, but only if they could make a great Syrah, with all the key attributes of their favorite Northern Rhône producers. Taking a cue from Ramey, Patz & Hall, and Saintsbury, they honed in on a block of Syrah at Rodgers Creek, and were able to secure fruit.
They employ whole-cluster fermentation for their Syrah, a technique used at blue-chip Old World wineries like Chave, Jamet, Allemand, and Dujac. This difficult-to-master technique adds savory depth to contrast the massive fruit character in the Syrah from Rodgers Creek. A moderate 25 percent new oak proves enough to lift, but not to overwhelm.
Following the chilly 2011 vintage, 2012 was an almost perfect growing season, with consistently balmy, warm weather that allowed for long, even ripening. Parker called the wines from the vintage “exuberant and concentrated,” with “stunning purity and richness.” In his October 2015 “Game Changer” report, Parker added that California’s 2012 vintage is marked by “drama and flamboyance” and likened it to a modern-day version of the 2002s, which “have turned out to be spectacular wines that have drunk well from the beginning and continue to age gracefully.”
The 2012 Skylark is deep purple to rim. A powerfully explosive nose of ripe red- and black-brambly fruit, heady purple florals, dried herbes de Provence, and crème de cassis, tinged with the tell-tale meatiness of great Syrah (grilled steak and black-pepper salami). A rich texture floods the palate with more blue-and-black fruit preserves and savory flavors ranging from soy, beef jerky, and black olive tapenade to dried porcini, espresso, charcoal, and anisette. Rustic tannins and fresh acidity keep the opulence from transitioning to syrupiness, and make us yearn for steak au poivre or braised short ribs.
Wine Spectator awarded Skylark’s 2012 Syrah 93 points for its “complex, expressive flavors” — this is no standard issue fruit-bomb. $45 on release. A modest $26.50 per bottle for our most compelling Syrah so far this year. 150 cases produced — an incredible 50 cases are earmarked for WineAccess. Absolutely not to be missed! Shipping included on 4.