2000 Pride Mountain Vineyards Syrah, Sonoma

Wine is so gorgeously shareable. Bottles just beg to be drunk not by a single pair of lips but by many, and one of my favorite things to do is pop a cork when friends come over. Many of my friends are not wine collectors in any sense, and I have most of them trained to bring flowers or dessert so I can have an opportunity to share a nice bottle with them. Some of my friends who also happen to be winemakers on the other hand, tend to bring special bottles themselves, and should we ever take the time to discuss the menu beforehand, the evening can quickly move into epic territory.

Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday, a day when wine lovers from all over the world step (virtually) into the same room to share their wines based around a central theme. This month’s edition, hosted by Jathan over at Wine Expression, is focused on Rhone varietals of all kinds, and I’m using it as an excuse to review a wine that a good friend shared with me recently on one of those epic evenings.

Syrah is, of course, THE Rhone varietal. In a valley which gains some of its fame for the wide variety of grapes used in its wines, Syrah is certainly the most famous of those varietals, and responsible for the most sought after wines of the region. Mention Hermitage in the right company, and you see people making small motions of private supplication usually reserved for trips to the Vatican.

Thanks to a number of factors, not the least of which are the evangelism of the Rhone Rangers, the rising popularity of Australian Shiraz, and a greater demand for bigger, darker wines, a lot of Syrah is now being grown and bottled in Northern California. Increasingly, it is also being planted in Napa.

Pride Mountain Vineyards is located at one of the oldest continuously occupied wine growing estates in Napa, on the top of Spring Mountain. Known to the locals as “Summit Ranch” it has been planted with grapes since 1869. Those vines have long since been replaced, and the farm has changed hands many (thirty-five?) times, eventually ending up in the hands of the Pride family in 1990, who have been producing some of Northern California’s most sought-after wines since.

Pride has the singularly odd distinction of straddling the Napa and Sonoma county lines, a geographical misfortune that has resulted in the need (mandated by the State) to actually have two different production facilities to produce two different wines that are labeled with two different appellations. The dividing line goes literally right through the center of the property, and the winery is in the process of complying with the complex bureaucratic order. Luckily this stumbling block in an age of increasing regulation hasn’t prevented the winery from continuing to do its most important work.

The winery is currently run by Carolyn Pride and her children, after the recent loss of her husband, Jim, to cancer. Their winemaking is handled by Bob Foley, a winemaker who has made an indelible impression on Napa wine and the palates of the people who appreciate it. His career started at Heitz Cellars and continued at Markham and several other labels before he arrived at Pride. Robert M. Parker, Jr. echoes many critics in his praise of Foley:

“As the winemaker for Pride Mountain, the fabulous blue chip performer situated on the hillsides of Spring Mountain, Bob Foley has consistently turned out phenomenal wines. He also runs a small operation under his own name, and is the genius behind several other labels, most notably Switchback Ridge. For mountain-styled Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and even striking Sangiovese and Viognier, Foley has an undeniable talent for producing wines of great richness and intensity yet keeping them reasonably light on their feet.”

Pride is known worldwide for their Cabernet and Cabernet Franc which they produce in limited (5000 case) quantities. The other wines mentioned by Parker, including this Syrah are produced in such small quantities that they are often difficult to find, except on the wine lists of fine restaurants or in the cellars of those who have access to the winery’s mailing list.

This particular wine is made in such small quantities that it is not even mentioned in the winery’s marketing or web site. For this reason, and because it was a gift shared by a friend, I know very little about the winemaking for the wine, other than the extraction and richness that I can taste which seems like it has seen some amount of new oak. I wish I also knew more about the vineyard which provides the fruit.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is inky, purple-black in the glass with near total opacity. Its nose contains aromas of blackberry syrup, blackcurrant, blueberries, and the earthy minerality of wet chalkboards. In the mouth it is lush and full and thick with blackberry and ripe black cherry flavors, and riddled with more austere notes of graphite and wet wood. Its tannic structure is smooth and fine which supports a long finish that at its farthest reaches has an almost candied grape or blackcurrant quality. This is a powerful and extracted wine that leans heavily on its fruit, but which has a depth that makes it very compelling.

Food Pairing:
I actually didn’t find this to be particularly a food friendly wine, however I think it would be a lovely pairing with more pungent cheeses.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $80ish

This wine, unfortunately, is nearly impossible to find. I recommend having a good friend with a bottle, and then having that bottle with a good friend.