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serra vineyardsSandwiched between the acclaimed Willamette Valley to the north and the iconic wine regions of California to the south, Southern Oregon has no place to hide. They’re not the only game in town. They can’t claim to be outside the wine-world loop doing their own thing.  Comparisons with their better-known neighbors are inevitable. Time will tell if they’re up to the task and I’ll have more to say about their potential when I have poked around a bit more. But my first impressions are enthusiastically positive. Warmer than Willamette Valley but cooler than much of California, with lots of sunshine and stunning diurnal temperature shifts, Southern Oregon is a sweet spot—almost anything will ripen but the growing season is too short for over-the-top ripeness and the cool nights keep acid levels high. So think new world/old world hybridity—bold fruit, but lots of earth and freshness.

Our visits to wine regions succeed when we find a person who can unlock the region for us and in Southern Oregon that person was Liz Wan, assistant winemaker at Serra Vineyards in the Applegate subregion of the Rogue Valley. A bundle of energy and a jet stream of information about Southern Oregon wines, she not only provided us with our itinerary but poured some lovely wines created by owner/winemaker Scott Fernandes with Liz’s able assistance. If I understand their working relationship, Liz supplies the numbers and Scott the judgment and intuition. At any rate, their wines are a delicious representation of Southern Oregon viticulture.

Their award winning Cabernet Sauvignon was great but I found the Syrahs intriguing because, well, I always find Syrah intriguing.

Despite warm summer temperatures and very little summer rainfall, there is substantial vintage variation here and so I was fascinated by this comparison between the warm, almost perfect conditions of 2012 and the cool, troublesome 2011 vintage. In the end, it was hard to pick a favorite.

Syrah 2012

Dripping with ripe, blackberry, mocha, and as it opens up, earthy aromas of wet leaves and white pepper, this is a wine with depth and vitality.

Inky in the glass, the palate is rich and full bodied with dark roast coffee notes emerging. As the mouth fills with darkness the experience is enlivened by an harmonic convergence of incisive acidity and refined tannins so seamless it’s hard to distinguish the textural layers.  This textural integration is the heart of this wine. The medium length finish remains flavorful to the end. Not too drying, and never grippy, it’s both sumptuous and bristling.

Score: 91

Price: N/A

Alc: 15%

Syrah 2011

Lighter in hue, this is  fresh and bright with red berries and pomegranate dominating, cossetted by enticing mint and chocolate. Lifted and elegant, but with tension and energy, the cracklin’ minerality on the finish gives the wine a nervy, taut aspect. This is more sinewy than the majestic 2012.

Both wines have great acidity and tannins that provide structure without being too assertive.

Score: 90

Price: $55

Alc: 13.5%

When thinking about music pairings, the bright acidity and minerality puts me in mind of jangly electric guitars. Where do you find profundity and jangly electric guitars? Well U2 of course.

For the 2012 Pride (in the name of love) has that same balance of piercing top notes and rich, firm foundation

For the 2011, Magnificent has a pretty, upliftiing yet taut, percussive drive that captures the mood of this wine.

Reviews based on industry samples

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