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2008 Sine Qua Non The Line
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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….
2008 The Line: This wine was just released in April of this year, and is a blend of 87.5% Grenache, 11% Syrah, and 1.5% Viognier, with 21% whole clusters used in the Grenache component. Seventy-eight percent of it came from the 11 Confessions Vineyard and the balance from Bien Nacido and the White Hawk. It is no measly wine at 15.5% alcohol, but it displays extraordinary berry fruit and kirsch notes intermixed with lavender and other floral components. Intense, full-bodied, voluptuously textured, and stunningly pure, with no real noticeable oak (21% new French oak was used, most of it the larger demi-muids), this beauty has put on weight and is showing additional complexity since I first tasted it. Anticipated maturity: now-2023.
The conclusions I came to about this tasting may seem obvious just by reading the tasting notes. People forget that as famous as Sine Qua Non and both Elaine and Manfred Krankl have become over the last 15 years, their wines really only began to hit full world-class qualitative levels at the turn of the last century (2000). The vineyard sources have largely changed from Alban, Stolpman, Bien Nacido, Shadow Canyon and White Hawk Vineyards to primarily estate vineyards Cumulus Vineyard in Ventura County and 11 Confessions Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. In the future, Krankl’s newest vineyard in Alisos Canyon will be an additional component part.
His meticulous craftsmanship and phenomenal attention to detail, both in the vineyard and in the winery, have been increasingly noticeable over the last decade. He seemed to hit full stride about eight or nine years ago, and what has unfolded since then is an absolutely brilliant succession of true works of genius, both in his expressive, sometimes slightly abstract artwork on the labels, to the meticulously crafted wood boxes in which the wines are housed. Of course, the most important thing of all, the actual wine itself, is both the beginning as well as the end for consumers, and where 100% of my focus and judgement are centered.
Grenache, as Krankl would be the first to say, is by far the most challenging grape varietal to make majestic wine from, and unequaled in difficulty by any other grape in the world except Nebbiolo. That’s why we see so little of it from great terroirs. High quality Grenache exists in northern Spain, southern France, parts of southern Italy and Sardinia, and in southern Australia, but rarely in California. This makes Krankl’s achievement all the more remarkable. Regarding the article’s title, “Wasted” – I was so elated (by their quality) as well as depressed (because I couldn’t drink all of these elixirs) that it seemed as if too much wine had been “wasted.” On a light-hearted note, my condition once I finished the academic part of the tasting could have been described as “wasted” by those who still hold to the notion that alcohol is the demon drink. 98 Points Robert Parker Wine Advocate # 196 (Aug 2011)