10 Years of Durell Syrah

(at the 1998 Boston Wine Expo)


Listening to Steve Edmunds (who seems like a nice guy) was almost as interesting as the wine. He mentioned that he had never tried all of these wines together in a vertical tasting, so he was probably as curious as the rest of us.

He has been producing Syrah from the Durell Ranch under his Edmunds St. John label since 1986, although the wine did not carry the specific vineyard appellation until 1990. In making his Durell Syrah, he tries to emulate the simple traditional techniques of the Rhone. The grapes are destemmed, the cap punched down 4 times a day, and the grapes are pressed after 10-14 days. He does not use any new oak in this wine.

Since 1993, his grapes have come from 2 parcels on the ranch which he believes to be the best for growing Syrah. He calls them the "Terrace" and the "Raccoon Hill Block" (but he doesn't guarantee that anyone else calls them that). For all you fans of the vineyard, Steve Edmunds also mentioned that Steve Hill will be producing a Durell Vineyard Syrah under the Parmalee Hill label, starting in 1997, from some other parcels on the ranch.

Comments on the weather and grape conditions in each year are from Steve Edmunds, as are notes about composition of the wines. Opinions about the wine are mine, unless specifically noted.

ESJ Syrah California '86--this vintage contains some Cabernet Franc. The color is dark red, lighter toward the edge, but it isn't turning to brick yet. The complex nose showed nuances of fresh meat, leather and plum, along with toast. The wine felt round and smooth in the mouth, with concentrated flavors of plum and black cherry. The smooth tannins showed on the finish which had very slightly tart cherry flavors. Coming back to the glass after 40 minutes, the wine showed more cherry and earth flavors, along with cedar and vanilla. An excellent wine to drink now.
A

ESJ Syrah Sonoma '87--also contains some Petite Sirah from the Mc Dowell Family Vineyard. A warm year in which the grapes developed quickly. The ruby red wine was a bit light toward the edge. There was an herbal edge to the nose with some dill along with the leather and plum flavors. Tasted of pepper, tart cherry, and later some plum on the short, tannic finish. Although it is complex, it also seems disjointed.
B

ESJ Syrah California '88--a very warm year, in which the grapes ripened too quickly for flavor to develop, according to Edmunds. Ruby color, but browning near the edge. The herbal nose had a strong dill component, along with menthol and leather. Modest berry and cherry fruit can't overcome the rough tannins.
B-

ESJ Syrah Sonoma '89--a "long, cool year". Deep ruby color, but lighter near the edge. Complex nose with leather and cigar box aromas, along with a bit of the barnyard and a somewhat distracting medicine-cabinet undertone. In contrast to many of the vintages, this one is rather lean in the mouth, with some cherry and menthol flavors. Hard tannins assert themselves on the short finish. Although it is still tannic, I don't think this will get much better.
B

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '90--Edmunds said that this was a mildly warm year with cropsize problems (too small), which can actually be good for wine quality, even if it is hard on the producers' wallets. Complex nose of cherries, blackberries, plum and leather. Rich and generous, with lots of plum evident in the mouth and the long tannic finish. The only flaw is that it felt a little hot, but that's something I can forgive for such a tasty wine.
A-

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '91--A "warm, ripe" year. This wine was dark ruby all the way to the edge. The nose was subdued and closed at first, but with a little bit of air it showed some leather, blackberry and mint. Ripe plums and cherries showed well on the palate; had some "jammy"quality to the fruit. Has enough fruit and tannins to keep for a while.
B+

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '92--An "ideal" year according to Edmunds, and I would have to agree. Dark purple-red. Very interesting nose with strong floral (rose/violet) notes, meat, leather, earth, and blackberry. A slight hint of candied fruit disappears with air, as does a touch of VA. This is a big, lush wine with smoothly integrated jammy plum and black berry fruit, along with a solid backbone of oak and tannins. Great now, but I think it will get better.
A

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '93--A "cooler, longer" year. Again, a dark purple-red wine with strong floral notes in the nose, along with fresh meat and blackberry. The '93 is a bit lighter than the '92, but still with solid plum and cherry flavors, with a hint of roses. This wine seems tightly wound on the finish, with big tannins.
A-

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '94--"[L]ike 90, a powerful year." This dark purple wine has a nose of leather, medicine and alcohol. Unfortunately, the alcohol shows through as heat on the otherwise lush palate. The generous plum flavors give way to smooth but tight tannins. Seems a bit simple compared to the previous few wines, but may improve with age.
B+ now, with potential to improve

ESJ Syrah Durell Vineyard '95--"the best year"...long and good temperatures. Very dark purple; strong blackberry and plum aromas with some pleasant herb (pepper/menthol) undertones. Big plum, raspberry and leather flavors, with firm but smooth tannins and a big, long finish. With more air, the flavors develop, and some meaty/leathery character emerges. This needs several years at least.
A

Note: I liked the 95 Durell better in this tasting than on the main floor (where I ranked it an A-, but a strong one). I think that is because the wine was pretty tight at first, and because the vertical gave me a better idea of where this particular wine was probably going. It just goes to show that mega-tasting results don't always provide the best measure of a wine.


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Copyright 1998, 1999 Marcel Lachenmann. All rights reserved.