Hello friends. I’ve made the argument on several occasions that the 2012 vintage in Washington contains incredible opportunities for value Cabernet Sauvignon. The argument has gone something like this: 2012 was a year with an excess of beautiful fruit, but if you normally make 400 cases of $40 Cabernet, you’re not going to increase to 600 cases just because yields and quality are up. You might tick up to 450 cases, and just declassify the rest of your wonderful fruit into an alternate label.
But there’s really nothing about that paragraph that applies only to Cabernet Sauvignon, a lesson I’m learning as more and more of the 2012 vintage wines are being released. For a case study in how the same dynamics apply to Rhone varieties, today we present a breathtaking vintage of an always strong wine:
The last line in my tasting notes says “this drinks like Elena from some vintages.” What I’m referring to is Syncline’s gorgeous Cuvee Elena, a higher-end ($40) barrel-select Rhone blend. Production of Elena has varied between 220 and 420 cases from the 2007 through 2011 vintages. Now let’s say in the 2012 vintage Syncline felt like they had enough high-quality barrels to make 1000 cases of Elena if they wanted to. Would James and Poppie do it? Probably not, because selling an extra 600 cases of $40 wine is no easy task. The more likely scenario is that some of those Elena-level barrels move down the chain to wines like Grenache, Grenache-Carignan, Mourvedre, and of course this killer Subduction.
When I made a big deal in 2013 out of the raft of value Rhone blends coming out of Washington (Rotie VDP, Kerloo Majestic, Kevin White En Hommage and La Fraternite), several of you gently reminded me that Subduction has been here all along at a $20 price point. Touché. James Mantone was doing it before it was cool, and Syncline truly is one of the pioneers of Rhone wines in Washington.
The blend in 2012 has a little of everything: 28% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 23% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 8% Carignan, and 2% Cinsault. Aged in a combination of concrete Nomblot cubes (cool!) and French oak (just 10% new), it opens with a glorious, expressive nose: brambly raspberry, wet rock, forest floor. There’s a wonderfully wild and briar-patchy quality to the fruit, but it’s the texture that made me compare it to Elena. At 14.2%, it contains an honest level of ripeness for the down-the-middle vintage, and the mouthfeel is supple and seamless. It’s bottled joy juice, a mouthful of liquid sunshine. Color me smitten.
Sean Sullivan is also a fan, and he was kind enough to share a pre-publication review: Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($20); A vibrantly fresh, fruit filled wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry, herbes de Provence, pepper, and cigar box. The palate is full, rich, pure, and intensely flavorful. A superb value at this price. Aged 11 months in French oak (10% new) and concrete. 14.2% alcohol. Rating: **** (Excellent).”
First come first served up to 24 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.
And now some one-paragraph bonus add-ons: three geeky-delicious whites from Syncline’s 2013 vintage:
David Schildknecht famously called a previous vintage “as good as any I have witnessed from a North American Gruner Veltliner” during his one year reviewing Washington for Wine Advocate. The great savory white of Austria is grown on the southern slopes of Underwood Mountain Vineyard (see location here), and here presents a glorious pastiche of lentil, sweet pea, hay, and peach fruit. Vibrant, mouthwatering, and just the right amount of savory.
The name for this variety essentially translates to “lipsmacker” or “lip-stinger”, a reference to the grape’s copious natural acidity, and my note on this says “you can practically smell the acid,” all lemony goodness to go with salt air and crushed rock. All from Boushey Vineyard, this is micro-production at 145 cases and is rarely seen at retail. It clocks in at 12.7%, and this particular lip-stinger is wonderfully intense and saline. The one (memorable) time I had dinner at Dick Boushey’s house, a Picpoul (from McCrea, I believe) was the one bottle from his own vineyard that he chose to serve. Make of that what you will.
Syncline is one of a handful of wineries (four, I think) that have been able to produce a Boushey-designate Grenache Blanc. This too is small production (200 cases), and it’s a wiry, 12.1%-alc marvel of cantaloupe, nectarine, and lovely minty and fennel-frond topnotes. The palate adds a sense of minerality to the fresh, herb-inflected fruit. A great example of the expressiveness and texture of concrete-fermented whites.