Up to four percent of Viognier is normally co-fermented with Syrah in this fine wine. All grapes comes from their own vineyards - at Zaca Mesa Winery, no grapes are bought in – and they are normally harvested (by hand) in mid October. Vinfication was traditional, with total destemming and fermentation in small open top fermenters followed by malolactic fermentation and 18 months of ageing in small French oak barrels, of which 25 percent were new. It’s something very French over this wine, and I really like it, but not for just that reason. If offers a dark and quite intense fruit with ripe and sweet scented blueberries, blackberries as well as a dash of black currants, but what gives it that French attitude, is the spicy notes of licorice, the floral parfumes of violets and apricots (from the Viognier) and the complex addition of charcuteries and dried meat. You may well consider small notes of Brettanomyces, or at least some earthiness reminiscent of that, but if so, it’s at the level that makes the wine a just bit more interesting.
On the palate, it is medium bodied, ripe and quite rich, yet elegant and classic. Tannins are important, but ripe and therefore well suited for the good but not fresh acidity and the slightly sweetish fruit, and everything seems to hold up quite well in the long finish.
Already in 1978, Syrah was planted for the first time in the vineyards of the young Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Ynez Valley. Zaca Mesa was founded in 1972 and vineyards were planted the year after. At that time, Syrah was a rare grape – less than 20 hectares of it existed and pioneers were Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa Valley and Gary Eberle in Paso Robles. Little did they know that Syrah 30 years later would be the fifth most planted red grape in California (7 641 hectares in 2008, of which 567 hectares lies within Santa Barbara County). Although winemerchants and wine growers says it’s difficult to sell wines of Syrah, is highly popular amongst so called “Rhône Rangers”, and quality can sometimes be very good to outstanding. It’s no doubt that Santa Ynez Valley is a great region for Syrah, and at Zaca Mesa Winery, they now farm nine different clones on 36.40 hectares of this fine grape.
It wasn’t until the early 90s that the new owners, twin brothers John and Lou Cushman, realized that they should focus on the Rhône varietals. They replanted most of their vineyards with Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvèdre and more Syrah (they still have some 1.41 hectares of Syrah in the original Black Bear Block), and that was the rebirth of Zaca Mesa Winery. Today they produces some 35 000 cases per year, of which 10 000 cases is made from Syrah. Since I’ve been trying and drinking the syrahs från Zaca Mesa for almost 15 years now, I knew that this wine would develope very well with decanting, so I gave it a good hour before I retasted it, and another two hours before serving it on California wine seminar. It’s still young, but I wouldn’t mind having a case in my cellar for the coming years. It will develop into something more complex over the years.