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2005 Lillian Whitehawk Vineyard Syrah
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- ABV 15.5%
- Closure: Cork
If you've ever opened a bottle of Sine Qua Non (SQN), no doubt you will be of the opinion that Austria's greatest contribution to California is not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rather it is Manfred Krankl, who in the early '80's arrived flat broke with no other ambition than leaving his native land.
Fortune favouring the bold, Manfred found success in restaurants and bakeries and before long, his life took a turn that some would call "The American Dream". It was certainly a far cry from what this free spirited European could have imagined for himself a decade before. Financial freedom allowed him to play at will with a vinous hobby, later turned success story with a world wide cult following.
In a region where Cabernets are centrepiece, Manfred's allegiance to 'underdog' Syrah and white Rhone varietals might have seemed a handicap, but along with several other 'Rhone Rangers', the "sex-appeal" of these varietals, as he puts it, was just too hard to resist. Sine Qua Non's first release was a mere four barrels of the 1994 Queen of Spades Syrah, never to be seen again, as SQN cuvees have changed every year since then. A Dylanesque disposition to never sing the same song the same way twice sees Manfred not only sourcing fruit from different vineyards each year, but also redesigning the label artwork (created by himself ), all in a bid to make his wines an expression of everything meaningful at a point in his life.
But then, building a brand was never a primary concern at SQN. Thus, this approach was more than fitting and made sense with the garagiste nature of the venture (his early years were spent working from a run down suburban LA shed). One governing idea has remained constant: "To make something that is so distinctive and delicious as to make it indispensable to wine lovers the world over".
If a true measure of success is the price fetched by a label, SQN is right up there with the likes of Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and other top names from California. If it's top ratings, SQN has received more 100 point scores from Parker in its early history than any other winery you could think of, and that includes all 'A' listers of the wine world. If it's peer recognition, he has had numerous partnerships with the world's top names of winemaking, such as the late Alois Kracher and more recently "Chimere" with Philippe Cambie (the Rhone Valley's premier consultant). These are outstanding feats for a once 'late newcomer' to the industry. However, perhaps Krankl's greatest legacy and testimony to his genius is having imposed Syrah, Grenache, Roussane and even Pinot into a market place that was otherwise obsessed with Cabernet Sauvignon.
As for the wines? These are simply in a league of their own. The attention to detail is paramount and probably unequalled in red wine production at least: Grapes are harvested and sometimes de stemmed with surgeon's gloves, yields are always ridiculously low, averaging 1.3 tons/acre (for the reds) in a bountiful year. Besides setting new benchmarks for concentration, the same sort of fringe approach is applied to elevage, with some wines spending up to 42 months in 100% new oak. Far from being stereotypical expressions, these wines possess a combination of qualities that is indeed rare - the power and intensity of the highest grade New World wines fused with the layering and staying abilities of some of the very best of Europe.
Although not of Sine Qua Non as such, this wine could be considered an off shoot. Maggie Harrison was assistant winemaker to Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non for eight years before moving to Oregon to take over the winemaking position at Antica Terra (we've featured her superb Pinots from this producer in other offers). 'Lillian' debuted in 2004 and represents Maggie’s personal project, reflecting everything that she learned during her time at Sine Qua Non.
Fruit is sourced from several sustainably farmed sites, including the White Hawk Vineyard, a 60-acre plot planted on ancient sand dunes on the south facing slope of Cat Canyon, a side of the Los Alamos Valley in Santa Barbara County. Yields are minuscule and the berries intense with a strong core of acidity that is complemented by elements of meat and blackberries. It's no surprise to learn that other wineries source fruit from this prized estate - including Sine Qua Non, Ojai and Andrew Murray.
Of the Lillian Syrah, Maggie Harrison comments, "Lillian is not particularly Syrah like. It doesn’t scream out the usual cocktail of blackberries, bacon fat, and lavender. It always feels a bit more about the person and the place than the varietal. In fact, if one was going to make an analogy one might say that it reminds one of Claret. Not in a way that suggests 1981 Ducru Beaucaillou, but rather in the way that Vega Sicilia Unico or Penfolds Grange can remind one of an exotic, but noble right bank Bordeaux. The wines are lavish, but there is refined rocky quality in them that defies description."
We anticipate this wine to be at full maturity. Stocks extremely limited.
Other reviews..... The Lillian 2005 Syrah exhibits a beautiful deep ruby/purple hue in addition to a sweet bouquet of flowers, black currants, forest floor, and subtle road tar. Full-bodied and gorgeously textured with terrific fruit purity, outstanding depth, and an impeccably well-balanced, savory mouthfeel with no hard edges, this beautiful Syrah can be drunk now or cellared for another 7-10 years.
Robert Parker – Wine Advocate #177, June 2008
Youthful inky purple. Intensely perfumed, exotic aromas of exuberant black and blue fruits, tobacco, smoky minerals, incense and Indian spices. Plump and juicy, with deep, sweet blackberry and boysenberry flavors, soft tannins and sweet vanilla and mocha qualities. A velvety palate-stainer with excellent finishing breadth and persistence. Maggie Harrison was an assistant winemaker at Sine Qua Non, and this wine shows that pedigree.
- Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar - 91 pts, Steve Tanzer