2009 Hungry Hollow Syrah

Again if you are new to Hungry Hollow it is a label from Navarro Vineyards billed as a line of “local wines at prices every thrifty and hard-working man or woman can afford.” You can try their first three offerings; this Syrah, the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer, for $30 plus one cent shipping. Feel free to click on over there and order this now but if you need further proof to inspire you read on…

2009 Hungry Hollow SyrahPrice: $11.99 @ Navarro Vineyards

What They Said:

Per Navarro Vineyards “The vines that produced this Syrah are an Australian selection, which would be labeled as Shiraz Down Under. The vines are trained to an old-fashioned goblet that works extremely well for Syrah grown on the Rhône as well as in Australia. We like the wine produced from these vines and have been lucky enough to purchase these grapes for several years. The berries are small and the clusters compact; the wine produced is darkly colored with complex tannins and delicate aromas of violets and cherry. The wine was aged in seasoned French oak barrels for ten months and aged in the bottle for another year in our temperature controlled cellar. The polar opposite of the 2010 Hungry Hollow Riesling, it is 14.1% alcohol with deep lingering flavors to match; a bold, chewy wine sporting flavors of black cherry, loganberry jam and currants backed up with hints of caramel and bittersweet chocolate. Serve with duck with olives, grilled burgers, shitake mushroom risotto or your favorite juicy steak.”

What I Think:

(14.1%) Nice, dark, chewy fruit with black cherry and currant on the palate. Lively, bright acidity and black olives notes on the mid-palate which lead to a rich, chocolaty finish with oak spice that lingers pleasantly. Tightly wound but food friendly, punching well below its 14.1% weight class. I like the prospects of this one given some short term aging. Well worth the $12 price of admission especially if you are a fan of cool climate Syrah which is hard to find at this price point.

Wine Geek Notes: 1,422 cases made; Sugars at harvest: 24.9° Brix; Made with Australian clones; Aged in seasoned French oak barrels for ten months and aged in the bottle for another year.

Rating: Buy It

2006 Zaca Mesa Syrah

2006 Zaca Mesa SyrahPrice: $16.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “93 points and a “Smart Buy” designation from Wine Spectator: “Offering wonderful floral, grapey plum and wild berry aromas, this is rich, smooth and supple on the palate, with tiers of dark berry, mocha, mineral and spice flavors that glide along. Drink now through 2015.” (02/10) Zaca Mesa has been on a serious roll over the last few vintages with their Santa Ynez Valley Syrah bottling. The 2005 was wonderful with its mix of ripe fruit and intense spice, the 2006 is more of the same except that it is even bigger and has a little more of everything packed into the same $16.99 package. The nose is perfect varietal Syrah, full of roast fennel, hot tar, muffuletta, and sweet black berry jam. Back that with deep, perfectly ripe flavors of white pepper, cassis, fried sage and violet and this is one intense, full throttle Syrah. For well under $20 this is one of the biggest steals we currently have in the Domestic section. (Bryan Brick, K&L)”

What I Think:

After reading an intriguing tasting note from Steve Heimoff I set out to find the Zaca Mesa Grenache. That didn’t work out but I did find this Syrah and boy am I glad I did. Wow! It starts with a great nose. Deep fruit with brambly spice on a jammy nose. The palate is powerful with a surprisingly nice acidity that keeps it perfectly balanced. Nice layered flavors showing violets, blackberries, bacon, dusted chocolate and a nice mineral component to boot. The finish is loaded with herbs and spices and lingers on ever so nicely. This one makes me want to drink a whole lot more Syrah. Wine Spectator gave this one 93 points and I see why! This is the most enjoyable bottle of wine I have had in quite a while. I just bought a few more bottles and after taking a quick look as the other Zaca Mesa offerings this is a winery I need to explore further. Now if I can somehow just get my hands on that Grenache…

Rating: Wow! <- And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Interested in reading more about the Zaca Mesa Syrah?

2008 Porcupine Ridge Syrah

Price: $9.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Vineyard Brands

What They Said:

2008 Porcupine Ridge SyrahPer K&L Wines: 89 points Wine Enthusiast: “This Syrah has a rustic but elegant nature: aromas of raspberry, black pepper, smoked sausage and cloves prevail, while full-bodied but integrated flavors of anise, pepper and berry follow. The wine is robust but has a velvety character and a spicy finish.” (11/09) And, according to Wine Spectator: “Fresh, with an iron note running through the black tea, braised fig and dark cherry fruit notes. There’s a nice plush edge to the open-knit finish. Drink now.” (12/09)

What I Think:

Fresh off the heels of my South African tasting adventures I headed over to K&L Wines to pick up some Wolftrap & Man Vinters Chenin Blanc. Alas they were out of both. Fortunately they had this one which was recommended courtesy of @winewithjameson (who shared some excellent pictures from the winery to boot!). So what did we have here…

A bit green with hot stewed plums on the nose. The oak is apparent on the palate with unripe brambly, berry fruits up front that fall apart as the acidity becomes a bit overbearing on the mid palate. This wine is juicy and spicy throughout with a sharp finish showing black pepper while oscillating between hot and dry. The bottle already showed a healthy bit of sediment on the finish leading me to believe this one was unfiltered. A quality offering, with characteristics you can’t find in something like the 12 Apostles, but still not quite worthy of a repeat for me. That said my thirst for tasting more of the wines from South Africa remains. Stay tuned for more as the World Cup is less than three weeks away!

Rating: Pricey

2005 Red Lava Syrah

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

2005 Red Lava SyrahPer Red Lava Vineyards “Our beautiful, obsidian black wine is concentrated with intense blackberry, mocha and mineral notes, rich tannins and a long supple finish.”

What I Think:

This one goes for $25 on the winery site so picking it up for $8 was a good start! I can’t tell you how tired I get of finding these scenarios. If you are a winery and if you are going to cut your prices be sure to offer them to your most loyal customers. Those that buy direct! Take Rabbit Ridge for example. Their excellent 2008 Allure de Robles goes for $5 a bottle at Trader Joe’s but before it arrived on their shelves they offered it to wine club members for $50 a case. Now that is how you should be treating your best customers!

Sorry for the tangent. Let’s get back to the bottle at hand… Tart red fruit and pepper on the nose are muted by wet wood aromas. Nice rich, red peppery fruit intermingled with blueberries greet you on the palate. A mild black olive component appears in the mid to late palate before leading to a hot, heavy spicy finish that falls apart to reveal thin wood/barrel flavors. A nice wine with nice fruit that is ruined by a bad finish. BTW, this bottle was a heavy one, they didn’t spare any cost there so guessing this wine was meant to be expensive. Nonetheless I don’t see myself buying another bottle. Let me know your thoughts if you do!

Rating: 12th Bottle

2008 VINTJS Syrah

2008 VINTJS SyrahPrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “VINTJS Central Coast Syrah is a blend of Paso Robles (warm climate) and Santa Barbara (cool climate) grapes, aged for nine months in neutral French barrels. From the cool climate we get spice, acidity and balance, while the warm climate contributes soft, round, lush fruit. Together, they create a stellar Syrah in the classic Rhône style, redolent of black cherry and pepper.”

What I Think:

This is the 2nd wine I’ve reviewed in the latest from the VINTJS series. As mentioned when discussing the Chardonnay I learned while reading the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that these wines were made by Bob Lindquist of Qupe. I’ve had their Qupe Syrah offering and was a fan so I was anxiously awaiting giving this one a try.

With steak on the table this was an easy choice and it delivered. The nose displayed herb notes and dried cherries. The palate showed terrific balance and nice acidity. Fruit is present but stays in the background; this one is not a fruit bomb by any means. The end is loaded with white pepper and under ripe berry flavors that lead to a slight pucker on the finish. It shows a bit of elegance that leads me to believe this one has some room to grow with aging. So that leaves one question, is this a side project with its own juice? Or did they decide to bottle a little bit less of the ’08 Syrah and throw the VINTJS label on the remainder. Perhaps I’ll email Bob and see what he has to say. Or maybe I’ll do a bottle comparison. This one was marked “8265 A 35” on the bottom. Be interesting to see if the same can be found on the Qupe. Regardless, this one is worth seeking out. I’ll be grabbing more…

Rating: Buy It

2005 Fresno State Winery California Syrah

2005 Fresno State Winery California SyrahPrice: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “Layers of dark fruit are complimented by an elegant blend of French and American oak. Supple tannins create a memorable and long-lasting finish on this classic Rhone-style red wine. Our Syrah is a perfect companion for grilled steak or lamb.”

What I Think:

Fresno State Winery, interesting I thought. Not UC Davis but certainly in the conversation when discussing the who’s who in the wine education world. That was enough to get it my cart. They have their own dedicated website which leaves me with questions, wondering and once again awe. Awe in the power of Trader Joe’s business model which consistently allows us to drink wines that cost $12 elsewhere for a fraction of the price. Wonder in why the site redirects to a funky URL and questions as to why any site would remove the information about a particular vintage when it is no longer for sale. Not very user focused now, are we?

Now onto the bottle, I am going to keep this one brief. Nose of herbs and fruit. Nice, rich fruit but all the same a bit restrained which is unusual and appealing at this price point. Slightly chalky on the palate. A finish that starts with mint and fades to blackberry & barrel flavors. As I think back to the Trader Joe’s inventory, there is not another Syrah in this price range I like better, nor a label I can remember wanting to try. That must mean Buy It!

Rating: Buy It

2006 Falcon Ridge Syrah

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

A multitude of opinions on this one in the blogsphere but no luck finding any information from the winemaker here…All I can tell you as they seem to be negociant as they appear to be located in Healdsburg but make Syrah in the Central Coast and Zinfandel from Lodi.

What I Think:

After reading this post I added this one to my shopping list and looked forward to giving it a try. Upon opening it you were greeted with a spicy nose, heavy in tannins. On the palate black fruit was apparent early but quickly disappeared and left you with a mineralish finish again heavy in tannins. Think they did some work on this one in the lab. I certainly can’t recommend it, especially with this Gravity Hills Syrah available.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Gravity Hills Base Camp Syrah

Update 2008-Oct-07 – Trader Joe’s has reduced the price on this bottling to $2.99

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Take a sip, and the velvety-smooth body caresses your palate as flavors tumble over one another in succession – strawberry, black cherry, plum, blueberries, licorice, white pepper, leather – continuing on to an extra-long finish. Down, boy! Base Camp Syrah goes out of its way to make friends with all kinds of food. With its mineral-fresh, lively acidity, it plays well with creamy cheese, pasta, roasted chicken, red meat and exotic, spicy dishes, like a Moroccan lamb stew.”

What I Think:

As mentioned with the Zinfandel it again appears Trader Joe’s is selling at $15 bottle of wine for $5. Unlike the Zin, this one seems to be worth the price of admission!

The start was a bit rocky as the nose was muted to non-existent on night one. From there it was all upside. Nice dark fruit as it enters the mouth intermingled with earthy notes. As a bonus, I was even able to find varietal characteristics as it showed some mint mid-palate. That gives way to spice that lingers on through a velvety finish. A pleasant surprise, as the Zin drastically lowered my expectations. I’ll be grabbing another bottle or two of this one.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Avila Syrah

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Our Avila Syrah is a deep, dark, dense, and chewy wine with an abundant mouthful of blueberry, black plum, and black currant fruit flavors. Generous in the nose, this Syrah is approachable with plush fruit flavors layered with Asian spice, fig, black pepper, and orange peel. A versatile number, this wine can hold it’s own with a wide range of cuisine from spicy buffalo wings to black pepper steak or a midnight snack of cherry, chocolate brownies.”

What I Think:

At $5 with a Santa Barbara designation I was willing to give this one a try. Coming from here I was expecting a big jelly jar effort and that is more or less what I received. Certainly dense and chewy with heavy fruit flavors that muted the tannins and finished with a minty spice. That said the finish ends abruptly and it lacks complexity. I know I expect a lot for a fiver! If you were thinking about grabbing this one feel free to do so. At worst you will come away indifferent. I am more likely to work back through some of the efforts from Columbia Crest that I have enjoyed in the past.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2004 Benson Ferry Lodi Shiraz

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Ever drive by a vineyard late in the season – I mean really late, after the kids have finished off the last of their Halloween candy – and seen vines still laden with fruit, even though the autumn colors of the leaves are fading to brown. And yet you still see a full crop of red grapes hanging from these vines, and if you look closely, you’ll see that the fruit is losing its plumpness, shriveling, and turning into raisins. What the heck are they making here? Late-harvest zin? Maybe, but more likely they’re going for a super-ripe style like this wine, which I found last week on a big end-of-aisle display at Trader Joes?

So how is it? Kinda like liquid Raisinettes. Never had them? Well, if you like wines that taste like chocolate raisin juice mixed generously with toasted oak, then this is the swill for you.”

What I Think:

After seeing the write up above I am actually visibly upset that this wine has ended up in my house. Funny how these things work, you know how often that movie all your friends bag on thus lowering your expectations tends to lead to you being pleasantly surprised? That is what happened here. Rich in fruit and heavy in alcohol this wine makes itself known. Not that I thought it was great but it was decent, though tasted of being created in the winery rather than in the fields. Give it a try if you feel the need. At this price point I’ll be looking elsewhere.

Rating: Skip It