PICK of the RACK: Mariah Vineyards | Syrah | Mendocino Ridge AVA | Mendocino County | California | 2006 | $18 | 88 pts

mariah-syrah-2006Aromas:  wild berry; black peppercorn; bell pepper; graphite; pine
Character:  dry; lean structure; full-bodied; earthy & brambly; medium tannins; racy acidity; cedary oak; hints of wood ash
Flavors:  blackberry; cured tobacco; lemon zest; juniper berry; hints of smoked meat
Food Pairing:  sharp cheeses; grilled meats & BBQ; game

The Mendocino Ridge appellation sits high atop  mountain ridges that run adjacent to the Pacific coastline in Mendocino County.  Vineyards within this appellation — and there are only six of them — are planted at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 feet, above and surrounded by the coastal fog and amidst forests of Redwood and Douglas Fir trees.

Mariah Vineyards

Mariah Vineyards

One of these is Mariah Vineyards, which owners Dan and Vicki Dooling established in the late 1970s and where they continue to produce estate Syrah and Zinfandel.  Dan sourced the fruit for his 2006 Syrah from the “High Ground” block, which he planted in 1994 at an elevation of 2,600 feet, on a site overlooking the Pacific Ocean just six miles inland.  The block is not irrigated, so the vineyard’s yield is low — which translates into focused, extracted aromas and flavors.

Mariah’s 2006 Syrah is vivid and earthy, an expression of the wildness of the place where it was grown.  Its color is of deep purple; its aromas suggest wild berries, wood ash, pine, and mineral; and its flavors evoke blackberries, tobacco, juniper, and smoked meat.  The wine’s woodland qualities are kept fresh by racy, cool climate acidity which adds an unexpected but refreshing touch of lemon zest to the mix.  Dan aged the wine for 20 months in French oak (42% new), and at nearly five years after bottling the oak has mellowed and taken on a cedar quality that compliments the wine’s earthy character.

This is among the most unique and distinctive California Syrahs we have tasted in some time, and one that signals the promise of high elevation, cool climate winegrowing along California’s Pacific Coast.  The wine offers lots of character for the price, and we highly recommend it.  So much so, we’re eager to try more wines from the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  We previously featured another Syrah produced from Mariah Vineyards fruit, although under a different label.  It was the 2006 Talmage Syrah, which we found to be earthy and exotic, as well.  See our review at www.wineonthebarrelhead.com/?p=789.

Availability:  Dan produced only 384 cases of the 2006 Syrah, so it’s not a wine you’re likely to find at your neighborhood wine merchant.  You can, however, order it directly from the winery.  For more information on this wine and their other selections, visit Mariah Vineyards virtually at www.mariahvineyards.com.

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