Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Spin through Alexander Valley

March 2, 2011

OK, I admit it, I’m writing under the influence. But that’s not a bad thing for a wine writer. I just opened a bottle of Field Stone 2008 Syrah from Alexander Valley in Sonoma. The grapes come from an estate vineyard called Marion’s Block named after Field Stone’s co-founder Marion Johnson. The first word that popped into my head after tasting this luscious Syrah was opulent. I don’t typically use words like that, because they seem overused and not always accurately. Trust me, this wine you can call opulent and it is eminently justified.

Fieldstone has been a presence in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma for many years. Their wines have always been enticing so tasting the latest releases of the Syrah and Petite Sirah (different grapes, just like different spelling) was one of anticipation rewarded. That also goes for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the entire line.

As an aside, I had compared notes with their assistant winemaker, Scott Sabbadini, years ago about cooperage. No this is not esoteric rambling, but a key element of winemaking. To wit, what kind of oak to use, what toasting level and for how long. These are all elemental to winemaking because of the accents and tasting notes imparted by oak. At that time they were evaluating the choices of Hungarian, Rumanian, Polish and America oak on their current release of Syrah. French cooperage is around $1,000 per barrique (barrel) and adds to the cost of the wine versus American ($400-$500) and other European oaks. You can read about that trip here.

I was invited to barrel taste the wines, which all began as the same juice before aging. I was amazed at how different each wine tasted! No surprise to winemakers, but I was relatively new to the technology of wine then and always appreciated the initiation provided by Field Stone.

Fast forward 3 years and I’m tasting the results of the oak choice they made back them. A great choice that has yielded a wine of amazing grace. Rich, dark, seductive red berries and violets such as a good Pinot possesses on the nose, a hint of bacon without the fat, typical of some California Syrah, but admirably understated here which winds into dark fruit, plum-like and dense with peppery tannins on the palate.

One sip invites another in an endless procession that will only end when the bottle is empty. And I haven’t even opened the Petite Sirah yet, but I’ll have to save that for another time. I’m only good for one bottle pre review. Salud!

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