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2006 Sine Qua Non Raven Series Syrah
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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.
Below are reviews from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. Note that several years has passed since the tasting dates (August 2011 being the latest). We expect the wines to be showing even better again.Other Reviews….
The 2006 Raven Series Syrah, a blend of 93% Syrah, 5% Grenache, and 2% Viognier that spends just under two years in French oak. Offering a dense purple color, gorgeous fruit, and a sweet perfume of graphite, blackberries, blueberries, charcoal, licorice, tar, and new oak, it is a dense, full-bodied, well-endowed, beautifully layered, pure Syrah that should drink well for 10-15 years.
Passing through what looks like a junkyard (or the first or second level of hell) to get to the warehouse of both bodily and spiritual pleasures called Sine Qua Non, is a hoot and a howl, but well worth it if you can somehow wrangle an appointment with the reclusive proprietor, Manfred Krankl. Tasting here is one of the highlights of my year, and all my expectations were satisfied if not eclipsed by what Krankl has made in 2007 and 2006. Oh, and there is one utterly perfect late-released 2005.
Yields in 2007 were exceptionally low, with the Syrah averaging 1.5 to 2 tons of fruit per acre, Grenache 1.3 tons per acre, and the white grapes 1.28 tons of fruit per acre. Put another way, Krankl’s highest yields averaged a meager 1.05 to 1.55 pounds of fruit per vine. That in large part explains the compelling aromatics, texture, richness, and intensity of these wines. Add to that the compulsive viticultural work and fanatical attention to detail in the winery, and it’s no wonder Sine Qua Non remains one of California’s most remarkable reference points of world-class wines. The good news is that the first wine from the new home vineyard in Ventura County, the Cumulus Vineyard, has been produced. Moreover, the continued brilliance of the other estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, 11 Confessions, is confirmed. Over the last few years I have not been able to taste through the Sine Qua Non wines without coming across one that merits a three-digit score.
The final wines to be bottled under the “Mr. K.” moniker include the 2006 The Nobleman and 2006 The Strawman. As some readers may know, this partnership between the famed Austrian, Alois Kracher, and Manfred Krankl has finally come to an end because of the tragic death of Alois Kracher, who fell victim to pancreatic cancer at age 49. The Mr. K. offerings have been remarkable wines that showcased the talents of both of these great winemakers.
Robert Parker-Wine Advocate #184 Aug 2009
The 2006 Syrah Raven Series (93% Syrah, 5% Grenache, and 2% Viognier) is primarily from the Eleven Confessions Vineyard with small quantities from the Bien Nacido and White Hawk vineyards. It will be bottled after spending 22 months in oak casks. Aromas of sweet black and blue fruits, forest floor, lead pencil shavings, and spring flowers emerge from this remarkably elegant Syrah. With great fruit intensity, a stunning texture, and an opulent mouthfeel, this is a gentle, gracious, large-scaled wine displaying extraordinary finesse and elegance for its size. It will drink beautifully for 12-15+ years.
I don’t know whether it’s catching on or not, but there is a school of nonsense going around that somehow low yields are overrated. Of course, farmers who treat their vineyards like industrial plants, and wineries who do not control vineyards, or have accountants running the bottom line, are the usual suspects making this specious argument. From my perspective, thirty years of experience have always suggested that vineyards with the lowest yields tend to produce the most interesting wines. Sine Qua Non has emerged as one of the world’s greatest wineries over the last decade, and low yields are part of the reason. Yields for their white wine varietals have gone from .91 tons per acre in 2003, to their most generous yield of 1.86 tons per acre in 2005. Their red varietal yields have increased from a scary, financially disastrous .32 tons per acre for the 2003 Grenache, to a whopping 2.11 tons per acre in 2005. In 2007, yields averaged 1.28 tons per acre for the white varietals, 1.31 tons per acre for Grenache, and 1.52 tons per acre for Syrah. (I did not taste the 2007 SQN wines, but other Central Coast 2007s I did taste suggest this will be a great vintage for this region.)
When tasting wines such as Sine Qua Non, these statistics mean something because the Grenache is the finest in the New World, the Syrah begs to be compared with the greatest of France, California, and Australia, and the white wine blends assembled by Manfred Krankl are as sumptuous and complex as the world’s finest Chardonnays, even though there is little Chardonnay included in recent vintages, and there will be none in future releases. The ultimate “garage” winery, this operation’s back alley warehouse looks like a set scene from the movie Mad Max, but inside are the elixirs of dreams. Despite Krankl’s already lofty reputation, he continues to fine tune and build more nuances and complexity into his wines without sacrificing their intrinsic exuberance, purity, intensity, and individuality. I am increasingly convinced that no one in Australia, America, South America, or anywhere else in the New World makes a finer, more complex and compelling Grenache than Manfred Krankl. He is now producing two Grenache cuvees, an experimental, highly successful, long barrel-aged (40-43 months) effort, and a Grenache that is aged in oak for nearly two years prior to bottling.There are also two renditions of Syrah, a long-aged offering that is essentially an hommage to Marcel Guigal’s single vineyard Cote Roties (the SQN Syrahs are aged 42 months in 100% new French oak), and a Syrah that is bottled after 21-22 months in oak. These cuvees are rarely 100% Syrah as Krankl frequently adds in some co-fermented Viognier as well as Grenache.
There are four sweet wines being made, but, unfortunately, the Mr. K. series will end because of the premature and tragic death of the renowned Alois (Luis) Kracher, the genius behind so many extraordinary sweet wines from Austria, and a partner with Krankl. In a year filled with some extraordinary tastings (2005 Bordeaux, 2007 Southern Rhones to come), this tasting at the so-called “garage d’or” on the back streets of Ventura stands along side the wine-tasting/dinner at the Great Wall of China as one of the two wine-tasting events of the year.
Robert Parker-Wine Advocate #177 Jun 2008