Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah and Viognier
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Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah and Viognier

Several decades ago Zaca Mesa Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara planted the first Rhône varietals in the area. It now boasts of having some of the oldest vines in the appellation, in this case eclipsing the thirty year mark. Zaca Mesa is committed to sustainable viticulture on its 750 acres and all wines are estate grown and bottled. The winery produces Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, in addition to the northern Rhône mainstays Syrah and Viognier.

The 2005 Zaca Mesa Estate Syrah, $22, is a profoundly dark purple. The nose brings dark fruit, blackberry, and black cherry, with supporting notes of mushroom, earth, hillside sage and black pepper and nutmeg for spice. This wine was matured in 100% French oak, 25% new, over a 16 month period. This oak is nicely used, balancing well with the persistent fruit. On the palate I enjoyed blackberry; blueberry, some brambly raspberry jam, mocha, cocoa, tobacco, and cedar. Not particularly tannic, the wine, though full bodied and mouth filling, has a gentle feel to it. The finish is dry and a bit more tannic than the mid-palate, retaining more of the spice than the fruit, vanilla in particular. I would pair this wine with a rich stew and concentrated meat sauces. The wine, by the way, contains 1% Viognier.

The 2008 Zaca Mesa Estate Viognier, $20, is a small production wine: 3,800 cases derived from a 36 acre block of the grape, fermented partially in stainless steel, finished in neutral French oak, and then aged a further three months in the oak. I love the color; to quote my notes, “a clear, luminescent golden straw.” The nose on this: cream, honeysuckle, lemon, apricot and white peach. The dry wine has just enough acidity to carry its ripe fruit: peach, citrus, banana, melon, and pineapple. The finish has a powdery minerality that echoes with the last strains of the fruit. The winery's notes suggest pairing this Viognier with “Thai chicken, raw oysters, ahi tuna or Szechuan prawns,” but I think I would rather pair it with itself. Of all the notes in this excellent wine, the pineapple has the final word as most satisfying.


Verdict: True to Rhône


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Zaca Mesa claims to farm a full 20% of the Viognier acres in Santa Barbara County.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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