2017 Pax, Grenache-Mourvedre “The Vicar” Red Wine, North Coast, California.
I had held on to the bottle for an extra few years, because the 2015 and 2016s were pretty tight when I popped their corks, and while still brightly fresh, this 2017 Pax The Vicar is drinking lovely with a seamless core of supple and ripe fruit, showing off its Grenache character, but with a elegant sensibility and Northern California coolness to it, impressive again from Pax, who’s much better known for intense Syrah. This dark garnet hued 2017 The Vicar really filled my craving for Grenache (or a Rhône) with black raspberry, wild plum, red currant, pomegranate and strawberry fruits, along with stemmy herbs, pepper, minty sage, anise, crushed flowers and mineral notes, and it was perfect with leftovers, including family style meatloaf. My brother, much less a wine drinker, and I crushed this bottle, at 13.2% natural alcohol, it never felt hot or heavy, we almost wished we had another to open! Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed the alternative and natural bottlings here at Pax, including their Wine Club offerings, including co-ferments of white and red grapes, the Charbono, the Mission, the Vermentino and Trousseau, as well as the different Gamay bottlings. There is a lot to enjoy in the latest set of releases, of course, you shouldn’t pass up the righteous collection of single vineyard Syrahs, for which this label is best admired for, and for good reason.

The Vicar (name a sly nod to Chateauneuf du Pape?) is Pax’s Grenache driven red, inspired by the rustic and charming wines of the southern Rhone Valley, and as mentioned, it’s a sexy and seductive blend of ripe fruit, but with a cooler tone, similar to Gigondas, sourced from excellent vineyard sites coming from the Russian River Valley and Mendocino County, usually relying on a majority from the Alder Springs Vineyard. The 2017 was 55% Grenache and 45% Mourvedre, and notable, all these vineyards are sustainably or organically farmed, providing intensity and energy here. Pax again went 100% whole-Cluster with spicy and savor stemmy notes adding complexity along with a sultry earthiness. Again with the Southern Rhone in mind, this Pax Vicar was naturally fermented, semi-carbonic and aged in a combination of 50% concrete vat/tank and 50% in 500L neutral French Oak Puncheons. The total elevage here lasted for about 18 months, allowing the layers to mature nicely, with absolutely no new wood used to keep things transparent. The mentioned 2015 and 2016 versions might have been more powerful and or more brooding when I first tasted them, but this 2017 is more generous and fun, even with the high(er) percentage of Mourvedre, I look forward to seeing what winemaker Pax Mahle has in store in future releases, the 2018 and 2019, as well as the 2021, promising to deliver top quality, which considering the vintages, should be excellent if not profound wines! Also, Pax has just sent out their first offers on their Halcon Estate Syrah, which should be intriguing stuff too!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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