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Wine of the Week: Wind Gap 2013 Sonoma Coast Syrah

They used to say that Wine Country was about the sun: sunny California, sunny Sonoma County, sun-drenched grapes growing on sun-loving vines that reach for the sun with sun-besotted tendrils.

Now, that’s all turned upside down, and it’s cool to be chill — as the young people used to say.

It’s the cool climates that are now said to produce the finest of wines, at least where we’re talking about Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and even Syrah. Sunny Sonoma County can get downright chilly on summer evenings, thanks to cooling breezes and fog from the Pacific Ocean, which flow in most readily through the so-called Petaluma Gap.

Cloud cover and sea breezes will eventually blanket Sonoma County’s winegrowing regions on many days, but it’s all a matter of degrees, on most: The Petaluma Gap is a 15-mile-wide area where the range of coastal hills, unimpressively altitudinal though they may be, flattens out sufficiently to allow the day’s first cool, ocean breezes to flow, unimpeded, into the interior of Sonoma County.

The Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance hopes to make the Petaluma Gap an official AVA (American Viticultural Area). For now, it’s an unofficial area mainly located within the Sonoma Coast AVA.

With a name like Wind Gap, you can bet that Pax Mahle’s winery pays tribute to the Petaluma Gap. A good portions of the Wind Gap 2013 Sonoma Coast Syrah ($42) is sourced from a Petaluma Gap-area vineyard, as well as adjacent areas in the western Sonoma Coast.

A pretty, ruby-wine with a magenta tint to the meniscus — ten dollar wine word, there — the Sonoma Coast Syrah unfurls out of the glass like fluffy April clouds in photographic negative — purple, that is. Purple marker, plum pastille — the fancy hard candy in the tin — and Bourbon vanilla aromas mingle with the warm, fresh scent of sheep pasture … it’s too clean to be called “barnyard,” which is no slight when speaking of Rhône-style wines.

Plush, but tart red fruit flavors cling to the tongue with brisk acidity, rather than over tannin — although it’s usefully astringent.

Here’s a wine to upset your preconceptions about California wines, and Syrah: the fruit is appealing, while the finish brings sour, raspberry lemonade to mind, but the pH is 3.75 (for you wine geeks in the making, that’s not super high, but it’s not particularly low — then again, it’s Syrah, which is a strange animal where it comes to acidity vs pH).

The alcohol by volume is just 12.4 percent, showing that in the Petaluma Gap, and Sonoma Coast, an enjoyable level of ripeness can be achieved without too much sugar — in time, in the ever-present wind.

Find more info about wineries and wine in Sonoma County.

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