|Always a good pairing: Syrah and snowstorms.|
I recently uncorked one such bottle, a 2005 Erna Schein Syrah “Homage to Ed Oliveira” from the Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino County. This wine is a product of Behrens & Hitchcock, the husband-wife vintner duo of Les Behrens and Lisa Drinkward (awesome last name, by the way).
Of course, wine is made in the vineyard, and this vineyard is something special. It’s located in Mendocino’s rugged Redwood Valley appellation, which is a stunning and serene place. I’ve made several trips through this part of northern Mendocino County, and I think about this area often. I’ve never visited this particular site, but I hope to tour the vineyard on my next trip.
Stuart Bewley planted the first vines in the Alder Springs Vineyard in 1993, and it’s since grown to 140 acres. The vineyard is home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Rhone varieties spread across 31 individual plots. The juice from these low-yielding vines has found its way into bottles from an impressive list of winemakers, including Pax, Novy, Patz & Hall, Vie and Arnot-Roberts. Ranging from 1,700 to 2,700 feet in elevation, some 315,000 vines cling to steep sandstone slopes. It sounds like an amazing site, and given the level of focus on viticulture, it’s no wonder the juice tastes so damn good.
I also like the label and the aesthetic approach. Behrens and Drinkward pay homage to their winemaking mentor, Ed Olivera, in the proprietary name of this wine. They also pay tribute to Behrens’ mother by putting her name, Erna Schein, on the label, and they recognize her baking skills with an image of a mixer. The juice inside is what counts, but I always enjoy the stories and the people behind the wines, and I like it when winemakers honor those who came before and inspired them.
Like all stunning wines should, this Syrah was opened with people I love, specifically my mother and sister. They both really enjoyed the wine, dissecting the nuances as it evolved in the glass over the course of an afternoon.
Inky purple color with some slight brick rims. Smells of blueberries and black currants, dark and saucy, topped with pepper glaze, smoke, bacon fat and green olive tapenade. My sister summed up the smells thusly: “currants and animals.” Opens up with air to show more exotic spices and herbs, maybe lavender and basil, Still quite tannic but they’ve been fined down with age, this is a full wine but moderate acid keeps it quite balanced. The tart currant and blueberry fruit is laced with all sorts of complex and evolving non-fruit elements: bacon fat, smoke, roasted earth, sweet basil, liquefied olives, marijuana, beef jerky. Time has turned this into a very floral and airy wine. Light roast coffee and charcoal notes linger long onto the finish. A gorgeous Alder Springs Syrah that I’m glad has been cellared for so long. Even more time to go, if, like me, you love those olive, meat and herbal components. (93 points)