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09_BienNacidoSyrahThere are big changes afoot at Randall Grahm’s iconic Bonny Doon Winery with the highly experimental Popelouchum Vineyard nearly ready to begin producing. New varietals, rediscovered ancient varietals, and new techniques for expressing terroir will soon have the wine world abuzz. But as we look forward to the future we can treasure the past.

Bien Nacido is a historic vineyard in Santa Maria Valley with the distinction of being the first cool climate vineyard in the U.S. to plant Syrah. Who better to make wine from these grapes than Grahm, one of the original Rhone Rangers who helped put American Rhone varietals on the wine map.

Bold, forceful aromas, more demonic than pretty, are themselves worth the price of admission. Rich, smoked meat with mint highlights, fresh dark berry and a spice note I couldn’t nail down—the warmth of clove but more herbal—mark this wine as distinctive from the first whiff.

The medium-bodied palate opens with pure juice, followed by an expansive seam of minerality, which then condenses becoming dusty with flavors of tart, dried berries. A luscious, peppery burst of fresh fruit returns to launch a finish that fades to distinct cranberry notes at terminus. A dance between freshness and desiccation marks this wine at this stage of life, revealing and concealing, coy about disclosing an essence. Brisk and insistent as it evolves on the palate, texture changes create a sense of friction, competing forces in tension,  holding each other in check like cool water swelling against parched sand. Tannins and acidity are so harmonically entangled that you really can’t pry them apart analytically.

There is still plenty of life left in this wine 9 years after vintage.

Exuberant in its austerity, with a heart that blooms coldly, its motion the kind of strident intensity well captured by Springsteen’s Born to Run.

Score: 92

Price: $50 (purchase here)

Alc: 13.3%

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