2018 Halcón Vineyards, Esquisto, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Esquisto Rhone blend from Halcon is Grenache based and made with about 40% of whole cluster and is wonderfully deep and spicy with good does of Mourvedre and Syrah, what this tiny high altitude estate is most famously known for. For the 2018 Esquisto, the final blend ended up 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, and it was fermented using indigenous yeasts and a cool maceration period with hand punch-downs before being pressed to used French oak barrels for close to a year. Paul and Jackie Gordon own and farm the renown Halcon Vineyard with great care and holstically, modeling their wines after the great wines of the northern Rhone with a focus on Syrah, though they added some parcels of Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne to fill out lineup, with this excellent and unique Esquisto being their only blended red offering. The British ex-pat couple split their time in the vineyard with their day jobs, with Paul working in high tech, whilst Jackie works part time in real estate that allows her more flexibility to be a hands on winemaker for Halcon’s many wines. In the last half a dozen vintages Halcon has become one of the most exciting labels in California with wines that are thrilling examples of northern Rhone inspired beauties that will remind many of the greats from Cornas, Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. This 2018 Esquisto is alluringly dark purple in the glass with edgy spiciness that grabs your attention with an array of grilled herbs, blue fruit and lilacs on the nose that leads to a a ripe, but chiseled palate with brambly black raspberry, ollalieberry, plum, pomegranate and kirsch fruits, rosemary like wild sage, pepper, mineral and meaty notes, a touch of cedar, anise and lingering creme de cassis. This is wine with depth and richness, boding well for midterm aging, it also highlights the season’s long cool growing season with balancing juicy acidity and some robust tannins that need some air and food to fold in and be best enjoyed, impressive and unique stuff that went awesomely with herb crusted roast chicken. While Grenache based, this Esquisto is not a softy, it reminds me somewhat of the brilliant efforts of Domaine Gramenon, who’s stylish Cotes du Rhone offerings, even Grenache led, are often more Syrah like, especially in profile.
This amazing small estate is located in the Mendocino County’s higher elevation appellation of the Yorkville Highlands, once thought to be better for Pinot Noir, Halcón Vineyards overlooks the Anderson Valley and the Pacific to the west. This vineyard is remotely high up sitting at 2500ft and it is one of the highest vineyard sites in California, which has certainly contributed to the iconic nature of these wines. The northerly location, north of Sonoma, the cool Pacific Ocean influences and altitude combine to produce a climate remarkably similar to the Northern Rhône region of France, as Gordon points out often, and with some glee, in fact a climate map typically shows his vineyard is slightly cooler than the famous village of Ampuis, near Cote-Rotie. Yorkville Highlands is located on the central belt of the Franciscan Complex, as these soils are known, which is comprised of heavily metamorphosed sandstone, which Paul adds is about a hundred million years old, and the Halcón Vineyard itself sits atop a geologic band known as (the) Yorkville Complex, for those that geek out on geology, a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz-rich rock, which is non too different than what you’d find in the upper part of the Rhone. Syrah is obviously the main varietal at Halcón and it is the Gordon’s obsession and passion, which they farm with total commitment that shows in the quality of their wines. The Gordon’s have some, of what they call, heritage clone selections of Syrah here that are originally from both of the most classic areas for this grape, Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. They feel that they have some of the best genetic material available, some of which are rumored to be legendary Chave Hermitage clones. On a warmer and more protected south facing slope, there is a small planting of Grenache and Mourvedre that the Gordon’s have been experimenting with to good effect in this Esquisto. Halcon follows a rigorous organic regime in the vineyard, spraying only fundamental sulphur (a natural element) without copper additions and the fertilization is done from organic compost only. As for pests, the rodent control, Gordon says, is courtesy of the resident owls, hawks and bobcats. I am a huge fan of these wines and they are outrageously well priced for the thrill they provide and the quality in the bottle, don’t miss them!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive