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2002 Saxum Vineyards "Broken Stones" Syrah, Paso Robles, California

Since the age of 10, Justin Smith has been growing grapes in the same place in Paso Robles. At that tender young age he was planting grapes on the hillsides and ridges that his family still farms today. He has lived his life on this hard calcerous soil, kicking his feet in the dry dust, and unearthing his share of ancient petrified whale bones from the cement, hard ground, sometimes with the aid of a jackhammer.

Wine was in his blood, you might say. Justin, still very young by nearly anyone's standards, started Linne Calodo Cellars in 1997 with a friend, but after five years left to start his own label, Saxum Vineyards in 2002. By all accounts he has had a blockbuster beginning. With Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker scores ranging from 93 to 95 for his initial wines produced from family vineyards, Justin has already made a name for himself and quickly sold out of his small lots of wine (approximately 450 cases).

Smith uses what he calls "minimal" techniques, that amount to non-interventional winemaking. Other than his proud use of one of the only handcrafted Hypac basket presses (to crush his grapes) used anywhere outside of Australia (also used by Torbreck - one of Australia's most well known small producers) Smith does nearly everything by hand. He uses no filtering, no fining, just a lot of maceration, and then into the barrel to let the wine take care of itself.

This particular wine is 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache. The fruit comes from three different vineyards: Denner, Heartstone, and James Berry Vineyard, all of which share the proliferation of broken rock that gives the wine its name.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is dark black-ruby in color, perhaps one of the deepest shades of red I have ever seen. Its nose is remarkably high toned, probably owing to the Grenache, with aromas of candied violets and blackberries with some earthier hints of tobacco. In the mouth it is rich and full with a gorgeous, satiny mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry, tar, and cassis, that taper into a long, lasting, and very satisfying finish. Weighing in at nearly 16% alcohol this wine is incredibly smooth and shows no heat or effect of its high octane nature.

Food Pairing:
I tasted this tonight with a great beef daube, which was nearly a perfect pairing for the rich flavors of the wine.

Overall Score: 9.5

How much?: $70

I was unable to find a source for this particular wine, but at least one of Justin's other wines is available online.

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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