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Lise Ciolino
January 22, 2016 | Fermentation, Harvest, Quality, Syrah, Tasting, Vineyard, Winemaking | Lise Ciolino

Vintage Chart for Paolo's Vineyard Syrah

Recently, Vincent and I sat down to taste every single vintage of Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah that we’ve ever produced. Given that this is our flagship wine, from our estate vineyards, and we have almost 15 vintages under our belt, a complete vertical tasting should be quite enlightening. We don’t often taste these wines side-by-side, so we were excited! We also had an ulterior motive: to choose the six most compelling and interesting wines for our first-ever Syrah Retrospective next month. We summarize our findings here as a vintage chart to help you decide whether to drink that bottle of Montemaggiore Syrah now or hold on to it for a little longer. Or perhaps you won’t be able to attend our Retrospective Tasting, and you’d like host a vertical tasting yourself. Either way, we invite you to join our journey of taste into the past.

One of the delightful mysteries in life is determining when a wine is at its peak—when it expresses the most intriguing complexity and beguiling mouthfeel but has not yet started to decline. Of course, assessing peak maturity depends on personal preferences.  Some may prefer younger wines with their bold aromas and fresh fruit flavors, versus older wines with their nuanced aromas and smoother texture—thus your tastes may vary from the next person’s (or even the “experts”). On the other hand, there are some universal guidelines which can be helpful to understand, which are outlined in our blog post The Wine Lover’s Dilemma, which discusses age-worthiness in all wines (not just Montemaggiore's) including varietal, vineyard, vintage, fruit, tannin, and acid.

Putting generalities aside, let’s focus on Montemaggiore wines in specific.  We are often asked when a particular vintage of the Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah will be at its peak—and as you can imagine, there are many levels to an accurate response.  At the highest level, all Montemaggiore red wines are meant to be at their most drinkable between 5-15 years after vintage. We say this because:

  1. Our wines are comprised of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are two of the most age-worthy wines in the world.
  2. Montemaggiore’s grapes are mountain-grown thus have more tannin than most. Tannins provide the structure which “fuels” a wine through its lifetime.
  3. Our winemaking practices target the 5-15 year timeframe by preserving the inherent tannin structure of the grapes, yet smoothing out the texture so that you don’t have to wait 20+ years to start enjoying the wine!

Now we need to delve deeper to look at each particular vintage, whose weather often dictates the rate at which a wine matures.  Wines from a very good vintage like 2004 and 2007 are typically more age-worthy (see our blog post What makes a Great Vintage?). Better weather conditions in a particular year tend to produce wines with a good balance of fruit, acids, and tannins, and therefore the potential to age longer. In difficult vintages like 2011, a good winemaker should still make a very good wine, however, and it may even taste better earlier (compared to “excellent” vintages of the same age)—although it may not age longer.

So now let’s get down to the results.  On a cold wet January night, Vincent and I sat down with all the Paolo’s Vineyard Syrahs from 2002 through 2013—along with three of our winemaker friends.  We tasted through all the wines from oldest to youngest, paying special attention to maturity.  My notes are below, along with our overall “Drinkability Rating” and a link to more information on our website.  Also noted are whether the wines are available for purchase, in case individual wines sound intriguing to you, or you are interested in hosting a vertical tasting yourself.

You should first understand our nomenclature for the Drinkability Rating:

  • Hold, too young: perhaps appreciated by people who like younger wines, but in general, the flavors will blossom and the tannins will smooth out over the next 5+ years. Decanting will definitely open up it's aromas and flavors.
  • Early maturity: tasting great right now, but is likely to gain complexity and improve mouthfeel.  Drink now or hold a few more years. Consider decanting.
  • Peak maturity: fabulous right now.  Drink now or hold for a few more years.
  • Late maturity: great right now but isn’t likely to improve much (in fact, it’s more likely to decline).  Drink now, or at least soon.
  • Past its prime: perhaps appreciated by people who like older wines, but in general, the wine is showing signs of being tired and has lost much of its fruit flavors.


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Still lots of lively fruits on nose and palate. A bit of leather and faint herbs. Very smooth, exceptionally well balanced Long, dry growing season with a few periods of high temperatures. Early harvest. 11% Cabernet. A few bottles remain, Wine Club exclusive


Late Maturity: 

Floral aromas with berry pie, and a bit lighter in body. Shows a bit more sweet oak. Very early bud break, lots of rain in March/April (and a bit in July!), two heat waves in September. 5% Cabernet Sold Out


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Still a bit tight, but opened up over time to reveal berries and cocoa with a bit of leather and dose of minerality.

Warm, dry growing season. Early and compact harvest. 5% Cabernet

A few bottles remain, Wine Club exclusive


Late Maturity:

Good balance and nice complexity.  Brambley berries with a bit of spice. Very smooth. Wet spring, cool summer, late harvest. Partial native yeast fermentation. 100% Syrah, like all future vintages. A few cases remain, Wine Club exclusive


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Pretty berry and floral aromatics. Lighter in body, but great balance.  Very smooth. Warm growing season with very low yields. Prolonged July heat spell. Spread-out harvest. A few cases remain, Wine Club exclusive


Peak Maturity:
drink or hold

Nice blackberry and sweet oak. Great minerality with a little cedar.  

Nearly perfect weather. Very dry winter followed by moderate to warm temperatures. Compact harvest to beat the rain.

Available to everyone


Peak Maturity: drink or hold

Lots of minerality.  Black fruit aromas with forest floor. Youthful. Difficult and low-yielding vintage. Lots of temperature swings. Early harvest and early finish. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Nice fruit with a bit of oak, coffee, and walnut. Tannins could use some time. Picture perfect season with good yields. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Brawny, brash, muscular wine with bold fruit. Will open up more in the future. Relatively even season. Cold, wet spring, moderate summer temperatures, and compact harvest. Available to everyone


Early Maturity:
drink or hold

Not revealing much early on: a bit tight and linear. Then opens up to a nice mineral, savory intensity. Difficult season. Cold, wet spring and cool summer. Rain at harvest. Available to everyone


Hold, too young

Velvety, great density and intensity. Blackberry, bacon, pepper and other spices. Dry, picture-perfect season with good yields. Compact harvest. Wine Club exclusive


My overall thoughts were that the wines were showing quite well!  They each had a consistency that was reassuring, yet most stood out in some way, typically reflecting vintage variation due to the growing season although sometimes due to winemaking.  I was quite surprised that none of the wines were what I consider to be “past prime” (and the other tasters agreed).  Given that the 2002 is now 13+ years old, that’s quite a testament to the age-worthiness of Syrah, and our mountainside grapes in particular.

The commonalities found in all Paolo’s Vineyard Syrahs were quite apparent in our tasting:

  • Balance of fruit and savory flavors.  Our moderate climate means that we have the best of both Syrah worlds: the cherry, blackberry, and pepper typically found in warmer climate Syrahs along with the earthy, meaty, herbal flavors found in cool climate Syrahs.
  • Minerality. While the stone and gravel notes appear more in the nose than the palate of Montemaggiore Syrahs, the “rocky” nature of our mountainside vineyard shines through in all our wines.
  • Vibrancy and vitality. Montemaggiore wines come alive in your mouth.  Their changing, beguiling, complex nature is probably due to the lean, schist soils along with our organic and biodynamic vineyard practices.

The six wines we chose for the Syrah Retrospective are the 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013. This includes one wine at Late Maturity, two at Peak Maturity, two at Early Maturity, and one which should be Held.  There is enough commonality between these wines, yet each shows vintage variation in distinct ways.  I really look forward to sharing these wines at our event in February!


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