2018 Sandlands, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This Sandlands Syrah has been a favorite of mine from the first time I tried it, and the 2018 vintage is in my opinion the best yet, with gorgeous black fruits, its deep violet perfume, its beautiful and inviting purple/garnet hue all revolve around a lively medium bodied palate with incredible textural impact. Tegan Passalacqua, who is widely admired for his own farming and of his impeccable winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars really understands the pleasures of mouth feel and this wine highlights this to perfection, as well as having a fantastic balance or contrast between Syrah’s savory/meaty side and the density of fruit, this creates an endless thrill of the grape’s old world rustic elements and the sweet opulence of its California fruit. The latest Sandlands releases are a studied and brilliant set of small production wines, with quite a few extraordinary efforts, including this one, of which just four barrels were produced and sourced from what Tegan calls, the Soberanes Vineyard that is impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands classic sandy loams, riddled with chunks of quartz and granite. This vineyard has become a star in the region, joining the top family crus from Pisoni and Franscioni, a collection of greatness including the legendary Pisoni estate, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar and the Garys’ Vineyard, and while known for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here, Soberanes has some of the best Syrah fruit in the state, as evidenced by this awesome example. The Sandlands 2018 version showcases the year’s long cool growing season with precision and Northern Rhone like character in its low alcohol as well as its depth and complexity that are just beginning to unfold with fabulous layering of flavors, rich detail and supple tannins with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and racy currant (cassis) fruits, along with bramble, pepper, crushed violets, a touch of welcome umami, almost bacony and anise. The Alban clone Syrah, planted at Soberanes, which I’m told was originally sourced from Cote Rotie, along with some rows of Hermitage (Chave?) clone, which is also included in this wine, plus the terroir here, always seems to bring out the most seductive of Syrah’s personality, while delivering impressive structure, I personally think the Syrah offerings from this site are special and in some cases better than even the Pinot Noir, with Tegan’s being one of the most desirable.

The Sandlands Vineyards label is, as mentioned, the personal project of Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua, a micro winery that sells most of its wines through direct sales on their mailing list, which I highly recommend trying to get on. Their line-up focuses on, as Passalacqua notes, the forgotten classic California varieties, From the Mission grape to Cinsault, and primarily grown on sandy soils with mainly ancient decomposed granite, from regions and vineyards, than Tegan adds, that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. The most acclaimed efforts in the lineup at Sandlands that I have tasted so far include their old vine Mataro (Mourvedre), which I put away to age, the Carignane, a wine that should not be overlooked, the Trousseau, the Chenin Blanc(s), Grenache and of course the Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi, to name a select few. Most of the vineyards that Tegan sources from are organic and his winemaking is all about letting the vineyards speak for themselves, which I might describe as gentle and transparent, seeing natural fermentation(s) and a well judged use of oak, with this Syrah showing excellent purity without any pretense or endowment. There are some really sexy Syrah wines out from this vintage and they certainly are some of the best values in California, with the likes of Pax, Drew, Halcon, Lucia (by Pisoni), Cattleya, Peay, Andrew Murray, Piedrasassi, Samuel Louis Smith, Storm and Anthill Farms making spectacular Syrah wines, all killer values too. I’m also excited by the upcoming 2019s from Sandlands, as everything I’ve heard or tasted so far makes me think it will be an even better vintage and one to really stock up on, especially as a huge many of areas of California, especially in Monterey County, saw horrific smoke taint in 2020, so there will be slim pickings of quality red wines, making these 2018s and 2019s even more in demand than usual. With the Sandlands Syrah coming in at 12.8% natural alcohol, it has a cool climate freshness, but still is expansive and looks to have a long life ahead of it, making me wish I had a few more bottles of this stylish wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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