A black hole. That, announced Joe Wender, is how Paul Roberts, sommelier at Napa’s the French Laundry, described Wender and his wife’s impending release, the Colgin 2002 IX Estate Syrah. During this recent conversation, Wender cradled Corton-Charlemagne, the couple’s shaggy Coton de Tulear, in his arms, grinning as he recounted Roberts’ reaction to his and Ann Colgin’s “secret” experiment. “He was just amazed at the wine’s density,” Wender explained, “how it just seems to pull everything—every flavor, color, texture—into it.”
Observers may take the mischievous gleam in his gaze as fair indication that Wender—an advisory director at Goldman Sachs & Co. and devout oenophile—had more than a little to do with Colgin Cellars’ foray into the realm of Rhône varietals. The couple’s several personal wine cellars burgeon not only with the bounty of his passion for Burgundy, but also with exquisite bottles from the likes of Château de Beaucastel and Paul Jaboulet Aîné. Having inspired the pair to invest in a Burgundian winemaking operation, this fascination with French grapes and terroir also prompted them to ask their vineyard manager, David Abreu, to plant Syrah amid the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot vines that populate their IX Estate vineyard.
As members of an elite group of California vintners known primarily for establishing a bold style of California Cabernet Sauvignon, Colgin and Wender are not undertaking this experiment without precedent: Daphne and Bart Araujo of Araujo Estate have produced a phenomenal Syrah in the famed Eisele Vineyard for more than a decade. Yet Colgin’s rendition of this spicy, peppery grape—in the capable hands of winemaker Mark Aubert—with its wild and magical aromas, resembles, if anything, the wines of the Côte Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage. Still, the intensity of the fruit, its deep extraction, and the voluptuous textures remain pure California, which is to say pure Colgin.
These characteristics account for Paul Roberts’ apt “black hole” analogy. The new Syrah is supersaturated and extremely tannic, pulling into its dark depths every imaginable essence: On the nose, heady vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, charcoal, coffee, and a hint of that peculiarly animal scent that the French so elegantly characterize as sauvage swirl around a core of ripe black fruit. From the first taste, the heavily textured wine bursts with blackberry and a trace of raspberry, the sweetness of which melts into a more savory toasted almond and beef bouillon. This lengthy progression culminates in a peppery finish that carries a pleasing hint of curry. Not even Colgin’s legendary Cabernets can boast such a profusion of aromas and flavors; yet this stupendous Syrah, which will be released in April 2005 at a price of $125, does have several points in common with its sister wines: its small production (200 cases) and the fact that it will be available in limited quantities only to Colgin Cellars’ very exclusive allotment list. Currently the wait to get on that list is five years or more.