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2008 Sine Qua Non B 20 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.
The 2008 Syrah B-20 is a cool, inward wine graced with layers of beautifully delineated, chiseled fruit. This is a distinctly mineral, precise style relative to the more outgoing 2009, but both are striking. Floral notes add lift as the finish turns explosive with a burst of dark fruit, tar, licorice and crushed rocks. This is one of the more understated wines readers are likely to come across from Sine Qua Non. It is gorgeous when given the time to open up. The B-20 is predominantly Syrah, with 6% Grenache and 2% Viognier. About half of the Grenache was fermented with whole clusters and the wine was aged in French oak (60% new) for 26 months. The vineyard sources are 52% Eleven Confessions, 18% Cumulus, 18% Bien Nacido and 12% White Hawk. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2023.
This is a breathtaking set of wines from Sine Qua Non and Manfred Krankl. It’s hard to say precisely to what degree a greater reliance on estate owned vineyards, generally cooler growing seasons over the last few years and a reduction in new oak are shaping these wines, but the bottom line is that Krankl is coaxing fruit of incomparable elegance from the sites he works with. The silkiness and polish of the tannins is breathtaking. I also had a chance to see numerous estate vineyards during my visit with Krankl and Cellar Master Jim Binns including the Cumulus vineyard that informs Krankl’s newest project, Next of Kyn, which is reviewed separately. That said, there are fewer more perfect matches than Grenache and Syrah as farmed by Krankl in the Eleven Confessions vineyard, which is located in the Santa Rita Hills, one of the cooler spots in California’s Central Coast. The wines that emerge from this site are often profound. The sheer drive for perfection and attention to detail at Sine Qua Non is something I have rarely witnessed anywhere else in the world.
Antonio Galloni-Wine Advocate # 196 (Aug 2011)
The 2008 Not Yet Named Syrah (91% Syrah, 6% Grenache, and 3% Viognier) will probably spend 24+ months in barrel. Admittedly a hard act to follow after the 2007 Not Yet Named and 2006 A Shot in the Dark, this 2008 requires introspection. Its opaque purple color is followed by tightly knit aromas, but like the 2008 Grenache, it unfolds incrementally in the mouth. There is abundant freshness as well as tremendous intensity and richness, but everything is tightly coiled in the mouth, and this wine begs for more barrel aging.
This loaded, intense red will be one of the finest 2008s made in the Central Coast, and again, will confirm Krankl's obsessive decision to pick in late November in order to achieve perfect ripeness. (Not yet released) After three decades of tasting wines from nearly all the world's greatest winemakers, many on an annual basis, have I fully understood what motivates them? For some it may be insecurity, for some others an overwhelming competitiveness, while for others it may be a ferocious fury focused on a single goal.
Manfred Krankl and his charming wife, Elaine, are well-known to me. I have been visiting Sine Qua Non for over 15 years. This is a Horatio Alger tale of an immigrant (in this case, from Austria) who arrived with only a backpack to his name, and who in a few short years opened the finest artisanal bakery in Los Angeles ( La Brea Bakery) as well as one of the area's pioneering Mediterranean-styled restaurants (Campania - still flourishing today). However, Krankl's fame rests on the strength of his wines - compelling, singular, and world-class wines that are like no others being produced on Planet Earth.
Is it his insecurity, his zealous competitiveness, a raging fire in his psyche, or merely a deep passion that suffers no fools or compromises? I suspect that even Krankl, in his most private moments, is unable to articulate what drives him to produce such magnificent vinous works of art. Some things at Sine Qua Non are etched in stone. First and foremost, Krankl works as hard in the vineyard as anybody. For example, a lot of wine producers talk yields, etc., but very few actually practice as small of yields as Krankl does. In 2007, his white wine yields were 1.28 tons of fruit per acre. His Grenache yields were 1.3 tons of fruit per acre, and his Syrah was 1.52 tons per acre. In 2008, he had a bumper crop by his standards, with white wine yields coming in at 1.74 tons of fruit per acre, Grenache at 1.66 tons, and Syrah at 1.70 tons per acre.
There is a lot of phony baloney talk in the wine trade that low yields are not all they're cracked up to be, but talk to any top winemaker, look at any great wine; the unavoidable conclusion is (1) most are produced only from top sites, (2) nearly all of them are meticulously cultivated and looked after, and (3) yields are consistently low! Krankl's wines would never have the flavor or nuances they do if yields were two or three times higher. In any event, this was probably my last visit to his -Mad Max- junkyard dog sort of winery in one of the ugliest sections of Ventura. That will all change as his new winery on his estate property just south of Ojai, becomes a reality. I have mixed emotions about that as his old warehouse has become hallowed Rhone Ranger ground for me. Nearly a decade ago, Krankl began to offer both a Grenache and Syrah that saw extended barrel aging. I believe he was the first Central Coast producer to institute that practice, and the success of this technique, practiced by Marcel Guigal since 1976, has been emulated by Justin Smith at Saxum and John Alban at Alban Vineyards.
Robert Parker-Wine Advocate # 190 (Aug 2010)