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2001 Austin Hope Syrah, Paso Robles, California

More and more winemakers in California seem to be starting small, eponymous labels on the side, which invariably allow them to concentrate on their true passion, whether it be for a particular varietal, style of winemaking, or region of the state.

Austin Hope, currently a winemaker for Treana and Liberty School wines, has turned to his own label to pursue his love of the Rhone, specifically Syrah. Austin's family has been farming in Paso Robles for decades, and that seemed a natural place for him to establish his own winery, both because of his three generations of farming history there, as well as for the region's ability to produce excellent Rhone varietals.

Austin Hope Winery produces three wines, a Rhone style blend called Westside Red, a Rousanne, and this Syrah. Each is carefully crafted starting with high density extremely low yield farming techniques, cramming many more vines per acre than normally found in the region, yet limiting each vine to produce merely 8 clusters of grapes from his French cloned vines. This technique, Austin believes, concentrates the fruit and builds complexity.

The Syrah is aged in 100% French oak for 15 to 18 months before bottling and is made in extremely limited quantities. I believe that the 2001 is the inaugural commercial vintage for this wine, and if that is the case it's a great effort. Keep an eye on this one.

Tasting Notes:
Dark garnet in the glass with hints of blue, this wine has a strong nose that includes aromas of sawdust and ripe, ripe black cherries. In the mouth it incorporates flavors of blackberries, blueberries, and black cherry, with elements of chocolate and vanilla that shine through in the finish. This is an extremely extracted wine, and ultimately suffers from a lack of balance, with too much fruit and not enough acidity and spice notes to balance it out. Despite that, the flavors it presents are extremely pleasurable.

Food Pairing:
Given the heavy fruit nature of this wine, I'd pair it exclusively with strong cheeses like Stilton or Roquefort, or serve it with your spiciest of spicy foods: habanero stuffed tacos or jalapeno soup -- you get the picture.

Overall Score: 8/8.5

This wine received 93 points from Wilfred Wong.

How Much?: $48

I believe some wine is available for purchase from the winery, as well as from select Internet merchants. Try Wine Searcher.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud