Winery/Vineyard: Carter Estate Winery
Product/Varietal: 100% Syrah
AVA on Bottle: South Coast
4.1 out 5 stars on Vivino.
How They Describe It
About the Wine:
The 2014 Carter Estate Syrah represents our very best selection of Syrah to be produced from these mountain vineyards. Fermented in stainless steel and held on skins for 14 days post fermentation. After pressing, the Syrah was placed in French Oak hogsheads (300 liter format barrels) and aged for 20 months. This Syrah is tight and structured for cellaring. Over the next several years this wine will age gracefully and show the elegance and finesse that we have all anticipated upon its release.
The tannins are melting into the dark, velvety finish and the intensity of fruit and oak are harmonious in the glass. This wine still has several years of aging potential, but it is rich with beautiful varietal character and delicate nuances of berries, lavender, spice and earthy botanicals.
About the Vineyard:
The geography and geology of Wild Horse Peak is an intricate part of the unique micro climate in these mountain vineyards. It is the earthly aspects that combine with the heaven sent rain, sun and wind to form the terrain that is distinctive to the high plateaus in the Agua Tibia Mountains. The elevation helps to create cooler nighttime and morning temperatures, which is ideal for growing grapes. Daytime temperatures drop significantly as the sun sets behind Wild Horse Peak. The warm Southern California sun is definitely missed in the chill of moonlight. At 2,400 feet, the air may not be noticeably thinner, but there is a clear difference in the big sky that surrounds the vineyard. The grapes certainly seem to notice.
How I Describe It
With even a small amount of liquid in the glass, the Carter Estate 2014 Syrah is a deep, dark, brilliant ruby red. There isn’t a even a hint of garnet, which is impressive for a wine which has spent half a dozen years in barrel and bottle.
The first whiff comes from the 20 months in French oak — primarily cedar and nutmeg. Oak spice is accentuated with white pepper and wet stone. Next, juicy blackberry and black currant take center stage, with red cherry and cranberry behind the black fruit. There’s a hint of brioche, as well as herbal notes of eucalyptus and pine forest, as if you were hiking through a mountain pass.
Where oak shows first on the nose, fruit leads on the palate. Blackberry and black currant come out strongest, with a bit of sweet black plum. The dark fruit flavors layer over plump red cherry and a hint of cranberry. White pepper and forest floor blend with bread dough, clove, nutmeg, and fresh cedar.
This is a dry wine. At 14.7%, alcohol content is on the higher end by global standards. Medium-plus acidity and velvety medium-plus tannins lend to a logically medium-plus body. And while the 2014 Syrah has pronounced flavor intensity and a long, flavorful finish, the wine also has a surprising crispness.
Why is This Wine Special?
Before diving in, a bit of transparency: I used to work for Carter Estate Winery and Resort (along with its sister property, South Coast Winery Resort & Spa). In that context, this review focuses on the wine only.
Also, in full disclosure, the bottle described here was donated by Carter Estate Winery. Other than providing the wine itself, there was no exchange of anything which would have influenced or unfairly biased this review.
Next, if you’ve read other TWR reviews, you’ve probably noticed how often Syrah-based wines are featured. When selecting wines to review, whenever possible I ask the wineries for guidance on what wines particularly stand out. Simply put, in the Temecula region Syrah vines produce exceptionally flavorful grapes. While there are many varietals which thrive in Southern California, Syrah is absolutely a cornerstone.
There are a couple things which make Carter Estate’s 2014 Syrah special. First, let’s talk about the decision to use French oak. When it comes to barrel-aging wine, where the oak comes from is important because each country’s wood imparts different flavors. Whiskey aficionados can also attest, while American oak tends to infuse vanilla and caramel notes, French oak contributes stronger baking spices. If you sip an American oaked Syrah next to this one, you’ll likely taste the difference.
Second, where Carter Estate’s Syrah grapes come from is significant. It might not have come across as terribly significant earlier on in the review, but these grapes do not come from the Temecula Valley AVA. Rather, these grapes are from the South Coast AVA.
In the United States, grape growing regions are given designated American Viticultural Area (AVA’s) names. Often, AVA’s are nested within larger ones, to recognized microclimates which influence the vineyards. For example, the Napa Valley AVA is geographically huge, and encompasses nearly almost all of Napa County. However, there are over a dozen smaller AVA’s nested within Napa Valley — like Los Carneros, St. Helena, Stags Leap District, Oakville, and Rutherford.
In Southern California, the geographically largest American Viticultural Area is the South Coast AVA, which encompasses vineyards in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties. One of the AVA’s nested within this enormous area is the Temecula Valley AVA.
AVA borders are strictly enforced, and for good reason. In the case of the Temecula Valley AVA, if a vineyard is planted even a few feet outside of the designated region, wines derived from that vineyard can’t use Temecula Valley on the bottle. In the case of the Carter Estate 2014 Syrah, the grapes come from a vineyard called Wild Horse Peak. Compared to The vineyard is located about ten miles east and a couple thousand feet higher than most Temecula vineyards, it has a unique microclimate while still being local enough to qualify for Temecula Wine Ratings.
When & How I Would Drink It
For Syrah lovers, whether imbibed solo or paired with food, this is wine which should be the centerpiece of the occasion. The Carter Estate 2014 Syrah is a terrific accompaniment to decompressing with a good book, or with hearty grilled meats.
How to Get It
Bottle Price: $57 ($42.75 for wine club members)
Cases Produced: 520
Have you tried the Carter Estate 2014 Syrah? How did the tasting notes compare with your experience? Leave a comment below.