Leave it to the perfectionists to make the better examples of California Rhone Whites. Pax, a highly respected syrah producer from Northern California, was once headed by the famed wine maker Pax Mahl. Since 2007, Pax the man left Pax the winery to start his own project Wind Gap. Before this departure, however, Mr. Mahl managed to produce some of the most consistently great examples of Rhone style wines in the United States. Unfortunately, Mr. Mahl left before he could complete overseeing the 2007 vintage.
Soils, Site and Vinification
Demanding a cooler climate, the Roussanne that comprised 74% of this wine was grown in the Bennet Valley AVA in Southern Sonoma. Bennet Valley has similar soils to Sonoma Valley but is far cooler due to a “wind gap” close by that allows the marine breeze from the coast to penetrate the valley. The remaining 26% Viognier found its way from a few small vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA.
Lead winemaker Tyler Thomas, who blended but did not produce this vintage, blended the two grapes after they fermented separately in neutral French Oak and concrete eggs, which add roundness to the wine without the flavour influence of oak.
A Wine Taking the Middle Path
There is something about certain Rhone white varieties that, when grown poorly or in the wrong soils, epitomize cheap overly fruity white wine to me. Sometimes it can be very hard for Viognier to excel beyond its heady aromas of pear and flowers, which can often come across as overly candied or blowsy.
This wine has none of the flaws listed above, but it does have something peculiar in its flavour profile that, personally, turned me off somewhat from the wine. It failed to break the flavour mould to move from good to great. That said, this is an extremely well made wine.
The nose gave pear and honey and the Viognier characteristics dominated here. This is deeper and more fully articulated than the cheap over-cropped versions, but still lacks excitement. The wine is rich and honeyed but does not quite have the upfront delicious opulence of the Alban or the delicate and highly aromatic expression of the other Northern Rhone whites I profiled.
Instead, this wine sits somewhere in the middle and does not quite reach the heights of either. This is by no means a bad wine, but given Pax’s pedigree, I must admit my disappointment. With this being Mr. Thomas’ first vintage at Pax, perhaps we can expect a few hiccups and improvement to come. 270 cases.
$55 at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena