Pax Obsidian Syrah 2006

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Pax’s last vintage before starting Wind Gap, the Obsidian Syrah, made from grapes grown in Knight’s Valley in Sonoma, was always known to be the bruiser offering from Pax and always garnered the highest scores from Robert Parker. This resulted from Obsidian being quite a warm site for Syrah and a vineyard with excellent drainage and quite low vigor (click here to see Donelan winemaker Tyler Thomas discuss the site’s terroir). Thus was I expecting a style of wine that perhaps I no longer enjoyed.

Unique Umami

Of all the Pax wines I’ve had, the Obsidian is the most unusual, and the least driven by fruit at this point in its evolution. It also did not have any of the classic bacon fat and smoke notes you get in other Syrahs from California. This is interesting given Parker’s original note back in 2008: “copious aromas of bacon fat, meat juices, blackberry liqueur, smoked herbs, and burning embers”. The Obsidian has become intensely umami driven, with almost no other noticeable elements. It is very deep and richly flavoured, but is not an obvious pleasure wine. The umami layering was quite complex (so the wine is not one dimensional) and, surprisingly at almost 16% ABV, the wine had integrated well over time and had an impressively, soft texture while remaining alive enough to allow continued drinking. This is not a wine for everyone, but it is one of the more interesting Syrah’s I’ve tasted out of California and has a unique voice to contribute.

Pax (at Wind Gap) no longer makes this wine, as he now concentrates on cool climate sites. However, Donelan still makes an Obsidian Syrah that I’m sure is still high quality given that he was Pax’s former partner. In many ways this 2006 represents the apex of warmer climate Syrah wine making in California made on the cusp of the rise of cool climate viticulture in the state.

Very Good+
~$70 USD at North Berkeley Wine Merchant in 2009

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