Donelan Family Wines Cuvée Christine Syrah 2011

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photoDonelan is the project of Pax Mahle’s former partner Joe Donelan. After their split in 2008/2009 several of the warmer vineyard sites travelled with Joe over to the Donelan label. These wines are pretty hard to find and receive positive reviews from the big US critics. They have recently been imported into BC by Marquis Wine Cellars.

An Experimental Philosopher

Donelan’s winemaker for the wine was Tyler Thomas (who announced his departure after the 2013 vintage), who I consider to be one of the rising stars in California and who is now seriously dialing in the wines at Santa Barbara County’s Dierberg and Star Lane.

This particular bottling is made to emulate a Crozes-Hermitage, though I think it is a denser, richer wine due to the Sonoma County sunshine. The wine is a blend of four Sonoma County vineyards of Syrah planting and so is in the final blend 100% Syrah. Thomas wrote about his philosophy of cuvees in a guest post on Wakawaka wine reviews, stating, “My goal is to make wines that please by their compelling nature. That is you find yourself both hedonistically and intellectually compelled to go back to the wine over and over again. It calls to you, and you answer. Many wines can draw your first glance, but can they sustain your desire?” … “The hope of any cuvee is to utilize all the parts, all the colors, to paint a picture or present an offering that is greater than any of the individual parts.” and “I believe that the greatest wines (cuvees or single vineyards) are not made but discovered. While many say that great wine starts in the vineyard (and it does), my goal is also to discover and distill what truly makes an impact to the governing components of wine and only do those things”.

It is an intelligent, but not academic philosophy, founded in practical experimentation but also grounded in a vision that guides the practical experiments. In my view it is a very successful philosophy.

The Wine

The 2011 Cuvée Christine is rich but fresh with dark berries, a touch of fig (but not overly dark or plummy), and a little caramel. Needs time in the bottle to unwind the flavours. It is a little disjointed right now in its youth but certainly delicious for a well made modern style of US Syrah that is not over the top.

This blend of Syrah is made with 40% whole clusters, indigenous yeasts and aged 22 months in french oak (35% new).

These are thoughtful, very well made wines that are varietally true but also express a sense of purpose. You don’t wonder what the winemaker was thinking making the wine or whether there was a direction – the wine speaks purposefully and transparently. These are top notch California Syrahs from ‘warmer’ sites which offer an excellent comparison to the producers making great Syrah from liminal sites such as Arnot Roberts, Peay or Wind Gap.

Very Good+ (I think this will easily be Excellent with another 2-3 years of bottle age)
$70 at Marquis


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