THE YEAR'S BEST
  Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category for the year.

October 2004

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 268 zinfandels and 279 syrahs.

The following 13 zinfandels and 10 syrahs received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all merlots wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com.

Zinfandel
95 I Gary Farrell $36
2002 Dry Creek Valley Maple Vineyard Tina's Block Zinfandel

The light color is vibrant, and the barnyard scents show this wine has nothing to hide. In fact, it only grows bolder and finer over the course of several hours. And its complexity continues to expand the next day, in layers of mint, blackberry, black cherry and black tea. All the while, it feels shady and cool, balanced at 13.8 percent, significantly lower than the current fashion for super-ripe wines. Tina's Block was planted in 1910, and the concentration those old vines provide at this moderated alcohol will allow this wine to age for years. (301 cases) (W&S 10/04) Gary Farrell, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
93 I Bella $28
2001 Dry Creek Valley Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel

Scott and Lynn Adams farm these 85-year-old vines on a hillside above their caves in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley (the vineyard used to be owned by the Meeker family). Mike Dashe helps with the blend (from eight blocks of zin and one of petite sirah), and in the tradition of great, old-vine Dry Creek Valley zins, this wine manages to be both potent and elegant at once. The power comes in lively black fruit and lasting earthiness along with fresh scents of rose and rosemary. The elegance grows out of the structure, the clear delineation of flavor, neither overripe nor contrived. A beautiful seared-steak wine, this has a zest best enjoyed in its youth. (800 cases) (W&S 8/04) Bella Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
93 I Howell Mountain Vyds. $34
2001 Howell Mountain Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel

Ted Lemon (of Littorai) makes this zin from dry-farmed, head-trained, spur-pruned vines growing at 2,400 feet. Its lovely density and texture bring rich red soil and black fig to mind. With air, that smoky, black fig flavor grows more complex, layered with scents of dark chocolate and chestnuts, firmly structured to invest itself in every pore of the mouth. The lasting flavors need something equally rich, like pan-seared foie gras with lavender honey. (792 cases) (W&S 2/04) Howell Mountain Vineyards, Rutherford, CA
 

 
93 I Murphy-Goode $35
2001 Alexander Valley Snake Eyes Ellis Ranch Zinfandel

A fine expression of Alexander Valley fruit, this is fully ripe, with a savory green edge. It smells like a freshly baked berry pie, plumped up with blueberries and fat blackberries, yet still bright with piercing and firm acidity. Tightly wound, this should age with grace. (2,100 cases) (W&S 4/04) Murphy-Goode Estate Winery, Geyserville, CA
 

 
93 I Ridge $30
2002 Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs

A fine vintage for Lytton Springs, this shows off the intensity of the vineyard's ancient vines. It's bright and bold, sappy and intense, a saturated black wine that grows increasingly fragrant as it takes on air. Enjoy now with brisket, or cellar for eight to ten years, when the complexity will be that much more apparent. (W&S 10/04) Ridge Vineyards, Cupertino, CA
 

 
92 I Edizione Penino $35
2001 Rutherford Napa Valley Zinfandel

Niebaum-Coppola dry farms most of their established zinfandel vineyards at the base of Mount St. John to create this classic claret-style zin. It's dark in tone, presented in elegant, leather-bound volumes of cassis. The round textures and sweet fruit balance a frisky bristle of fine-grained tannin. It will likely be best six to eight years from the vintage; serve this with braised lamb. (1,559 cases) (W&S 4/04) Niebaum-Coppola Estate, Winery & Vineyards, Rutherford, CA
 

 
92 I Rosenblum $30
2002 Alexander Valley Harris Kratka Vineyard Zinfandel

A sophisticated, claret-style zin, this gains elegance and intensity of flavor from its old-vine fruit. The 48-year-old vines at Harris Kratka manage to achieve that strength without any hints of over-ripeness. It's a high ride of strawberry red fruit, finely textured, buzzing with alcohol but not at all hot. Try a bottle with fish stewed in red wine, or with squid-ink risotto. (1,295 cases) (W&S 10/04) Rosenblum Cellars, Alameda, CA
 

 
92 I Koves-Newlan $25
2001 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Dynamic, black and juicy all the way through to the long, bold finish, this is a fresh, claret-style zin with more power than such wines usually hold. The flavors contrast blackberry and strawberry with spice, the clear lines of structure set to hold it for years. It's from vines planted in the 1920s in Wooden Valley, Yountville and Pope Valley. There's also 20-percent petite sirah from Calistoga. From the winery formerly known as Newlan. (1,454 cases) (W&S 10/04) Koves-Newlan, Napa, CA
 

 
92 I Rosenblum $26
2002 Rockpile - Dry Creek Valley Rockpile Road Vineyard Zinfandel

Zaftig with sweet raisined fruit, this wine gains power from an intense floral character. It tastes like baked berry pie, kept fresh by edges of acidity. Pervasive alcohol rounds it, potent enough for an oxtail stew. (4,289 cases) (W&S 10/04) Rosenblum Cellars, Alameda, CA
 

 
92 I Rosenblum $38
2002 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel La Bomba.

This is huge, super-ripe, yet still super-red. The bold fruit combines blackberry, floral spice, jasmine tea and a blast of black pepper; a bold flash of high alcohol drives the wine, but doesn't overtake that fruit. The chocolatey texture keeps it in check, sweet and pleasing. Serve at the end of a meal, bridging the short ribs to the cheese. (1,334 cases) (W&S 10/04) Rosenblum Cellars, Alameda, CA
 

 
92 I Hanna $49
2001 Sonoma County Bismark Ranch Zinfandel

All the luscious richness you could want in a California zin is here in this bold, savory wine. It's a harmony of contrasts, jammy and lifted, high-toned and cool. Still firm and fresh a day later, this takes on the immediacy of black raspberries and the prickers on the vine. A beauty, all in accord, especially with butterflied leg of lamb charred on the grill. (W&S 6/04) Hanna Winery, Santa Rosa, CA
 

 
92 I Rancho Zabaco $20
2001 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel

A brisk and delicious Dry Creek zin, this balances young-vine suppleness and brightness with old-vine spice (20 percent comes from 60-year-old vines). It tastes beautifully ripe, the dense richness grown from healthy grapes. Enjoy its freshness with smoked baby back ribs. (W&S 10/04) Zabaco Vintners, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
92 I Titus $24
2001 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Deep in color, rich and pliant in texture, this is pure Napa in its sunny earthiness. The wine grows at the Titus family vineyard, in well drained, alluvial soils on the valley floor, just north of St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. It gains its stature from mature vines (25 years old), building tannins that lift the fruit upward rather than weighing it down. And once lifted, the flavor exposition continues to develop from first to last taste. A fulsome, sophisticated wine for carnitas; or age it eight years from the vintage for a Thanksgiving feast. (1,548 cases) (W&S 8/04) Titus Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
 

 
Syrah
94 I McCrea $50
2001 Yakima Valley Cuvee Orleans Syrah

From two of the finest vineyards in central Washington: Grand Côte and Ciel du Cheval. This is co-fermented with viognier, providing lifted, floral scents that overlay the red fruit aromas. For all of the gentleness of the aroma, it's more than powerful on the palate, with black fig flavors and a taut edge of minerals that keeps the wine fresh and pure. (177 cases) (W&S 10/04) McCrea Cellars, Rainier, WA
 

 
94 I Matanzas Creek Winery $25
2001 Sonoma County Syrah

This estate-grown syrah is vibrant from the color — a beautiful violet edge to black — right through to the expressive finish — red edges to black fruit, scents of flint, orange zest, rosewater. The complex layers form an aromatic density, all built on bright berry and deeper, beefier flavor. Decant a bottle for lamb with couscous and Provenćal herbs. (400 cases) (W&S 10/04) Matanzas Creek Winery, Santa Rosa, CA
 

 
93 I Big Basin Vineyards $48
2002 Santa Cruz Mountains Rattlesnake Rock Syrah

Blueberry on raspberry, velvet on velvet, this massive red is rich, but not overripe. The gorgeous texture and firm tannins come from grapes grown on a ridge top, six miles from the Pacific, where warm sunny days drop to cool nights through the season. Don't open this now. The structure will repay several years of age. (175 cases) (W&S 10/04) Big Basin Vyds., Boulder Creek, CA
 

 
93 I Dunham Cellars $60
2002 Columbia Valley Lewis Vineyard Syrah

Densely colored, with aromas that go from black pepper to horehound to smoke and leather, this feels sensual in the mouth. The supple blackberry fruit builds to a smoky, concentrated finish, muscular and toned. For all that structure, it's generous and irresistible. Great now with lamb chops. (195 cases) (W&S 10/04) Dunham Cellars LLC, Walla Walla, WA
 

 
93 I Io $50
2001 Santa Barbara County Syrah

The supple texture may be the best attribute of this wine, its tannins ripened to sweet generosity. They give the feel of black velvet, while the fruit expands on the texture with a fresh succulence. Less hedonistic souls will find intellectual pleasure in the aromatics: blueberry, red currant and bergamot. (W&S 10/04) Io, Santa Maria, CA
 

 
93 I Nickel & Nickel $35
2001 Carneros Dyer Vineyard Syrah

The resonant dark fruit of this wine smells like Carneros, here expressed in layers of blueberry brightening to black raspberry. It's tightly built and generously perfumed, the fruit intensifying the lovely depth of flavor. Still, it's light enough to be a bridge wine, one that will meld equally well with braised veal shank or roast salmon and wild mushrooms. (252 cases) (W&S 8/04) Nickel & Nickel Winery, Oakville, CA
 

 
93 I Talomas $50
2001 Central Coast Basket Press Reserve Syrah

The first impression is a beautiful purple color. The last impression is delicious. In between, you'll find a rich and generous syrah, complete and balanced, with everything in place for age. For now, the deep blackberry flavor is powerful and satisfying, the texture blissful with a thick-cut lamb chop. (W&S 8/04) Talomas Vineyards, Oakville, CA
 

 
93 I Three Rivers $24
2001 Columbia Valley Syrah

With a day of air, this wine reveals a range of aromatics: olives, earth, chocolate and black raspberry. The flavors are deep and red, with fruit, mineral, tannin and acid in exquisite balance. A pleasingly bitter-orange aftertaste suggests pairing with lamb shanks. (1,680 cases) (W&S 10/04) Three Rivers Winery, Walla Walla, WA
 

 
93 I Terre Rouge $35
2001 Sierra Foothills Sentinel Oak Vyd. Pyramid Block Syrah

The '01 vintage provided a short crop from these 25-year-old vines, the oldest syrah in the Sierra Foothills. With a day of air, the tannins release a luscious black fruitiness, the initial funk minimized into complexity while the fruit persists. It becomes an airy dream of syrah, weightless and deeply concentrated. (W&S 6/04) Domaine de la Terre Rouge, Plymouth, CA
 

 
93 I Testarossa $42
2001 Santa Lucia Highlands Garys' Vineyard Syrah

The mouthwatering scent of crushed blackberries, the mineral edges and the lush texture all make the case that syrah is what to grow in the Santa Lucia Highlands. There's no denying the beauty these young vines have already created. Open a bottle and fall in love. (663 cases) (W&S 6/04) Testarossa Vineyards, Los Gatos, CA