2004 Parmelee-Hill Syrah Block B Sonoma Valley

Parmelee-Hill Syrah Block B Sonoma Valley If you want to drink excellent Napa and Sonoma Valley red wine for under $30, forget Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. There's almost nothing out there of quality in the price range. The wine to buy is Syrah -- as long as you know what you're buying.

Growers in Sonoma began planting Syrah in the 1990s, thinking the variety would satisfy the demand for rich, soft, concentrated reds. At first, it was thought that the warmer spots were best, guaranteeing plenty of ripeness. But that turned out to be wrong. Syrah likes heat, but too much heat creates unwieldy wine. Most of these wines were being harvested at such high sugar levels that producers needed to add water just to keep the finished wine from topping out at over 16%. The high heat and high sugars were matched by tumbling acidity and high pH, requiring many winemakers to then add acidity artificially to hold on to some sort of balance.

It was like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer and taking two Advils.

No one had a better handle on this than Steve Hill. Since 1979, Hill had managed the renowned Durell Ranch, the source for some of Sonoma and California's most coveted fruit. Hill began planting Syrah at Durell in the 1980s and quickly came to understand that too much heat was Syrah's enemy. Little by little, over the next decade, Hill came to believe that the Durell microclimate -- set just north of Carneros, enjoying both the cooling breezes off the Bay and the warm air offered by the protection of Sonoma Mountain -- was perfect for Syrah. There was only one problem. No one was spending big dollars for Syrah, so it made little sense to invest too much in the variety.

In 1994, Hill and his wife Gwen Parmelee got wind of a small parcel that had come up for sale. Steve knew the spot well as it had once been part of Durell. They wasted no time. The first thing Hill did after the purchase was to begin planting Syrah on southwest and eastern facing slopes.

Parmelee-Hill has quickly gained quite a reputation in Sonoma, supplying grapes to the likes of Steve Kistler, Flowers, and James Hall at Patz and Hall. But the real jewel of Parmelee-Hill is the perfectly crafted Syrah: a special blend called "Block B", made from a handful of carefully selected rows on the 55-acre property.

Parmelee-Hill Vineyard
Parmelee-Hill Vineyard
We first tasted the 2004 Parmelee-Hill Syrah "Block B" with Steve in March and thought it was an incredibly vibrant powerhouse -- but realized that a few months of bottle age would allow this cool climate Syrah to shed its baby fat. Our patience was rewarded. This is a big, bold wine with fabulous purple fruit intensity. But it has something else -- the wonderful vibrancy and minerality that distinguishes the finest Syrah in the world.

Tasting Notes from the WineAccess Travel Log
"Deep purple color. Ripe aromas of dark purple fruit and black cherry with wonderful high tones. Ripe, juicy and brooding, with a gorgeous core of black cherry and blackberry fruit. But what really makes this wine sing is the persistence of the finish. Excellent vibrancy and freshness, perfectly balancing the wine's great richness. Drink now-2012."