2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Syrah/Grenache, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The wonderfully proportioned new 2018 Chalone Grenache/Syrah by Ian Brand is a ripe and polished California Rhone style red that comes from some of Monterey’s most historic dirt of the limestone/chalky soils in Chalone, the first premium growing area in the region and sourced from Phil Woodward’s Graff Family vines that were part of the historic Chalone estate. Ian, who is one of the central coast’s most influential new generation winemakers and a vineyard whisperer that is widely admired for highlighting and discovering some of the most distinctive under the radar sites from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Monterey County, including the now critically acclaimed Enz Vineyard in the little known Lyme Kiln Valley where he gets the grapes for his ruggedly delicious Bandol like old vine Mourvedre as well as the Bayly Ranch Vineyard in Paicines that he uses to make an old school Loire style pure Cabernet Franc, as well as a collection of incredible Grenache vineyards that form the core of Brand’s most popular single site terroir driven offerings. This new wine in his signature series is Ian’s first blended cuvee under the I. Brand & Family label and was crafted using about 72% Grenache and 28% Syrah making for an excellent and densely packed Chateauneuf or Southern Rhone like effort that shows off the vintage’s long cool growing season to perfection with deep flavor development and smooth tannins, but with moderate (low) alcohol and fresh acidity along with a lengthy elegant finish. While Ian’s single vineyard 100% Grenache wines are graced with an almost Pinot Noir like delicacy, this wine shows a more rich profile with a darker, Syrah influenced purple/garnet hue and a subtle meatiness with layers of black raspberry, plum jam, sweet kirsch and a touch of blueberry along with acacia flowers, wild fennel, mocha and sprigs of rosemary, dusty stones and a light cedar note. This a solid and very pleasing wine that just gets better and better with air, it really fills out in textural detail as it opens and it benefits greatly when paired up with food, in particular more robust cuisine that brings out the full range of flavors and reveals the true depth of the fruit and complexity more clearly.
Ian Brand’s winemaking is not led by dogma or the desire to one of the cool kids, though he often considered part of the new California movement and or the pursuit of balance group, he is more, in reality a practical winemaker that is trying to guide his wine to bottle with as much sense of place and year as possible, as this limited release 2018 Grenache/Syrah does exceptionally well. That said, he does do some, what you might call “hipster juice” including his Ramato (copper colored) skin contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the Eden Rift Vineyard, which was inspired by the orange style wines of Northeast Italy like those of Gravner, Radikon and others. Ian has been consulting for the Graff Family Vineyards for some time now, but has recently folded them into his lineup of wines and under his personal label and along with this Grenache/Syrah he also does a 100% Graff Syrah, another first for his winery and a super rare lees aged and ultra dry Graff Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley) white wine that is one of California’s best oyster pairings. Brand’s main focus is geology and most conversations lead into a deep dive into the native soils and their influences and merits with different varietals, which he goes into great detail to explain and showcase in his own efforts, which see almost now new oak and a gentle minimalist approach to allow each wine to display very individual personalities. Woodward’s vines are located underneath the Pinnacles National Monument, an area formed by ancient underground volcanic actively which pushed up a massive granite superstructure and exposed a layer of pure limestone on which the Chalone Bench sits, this area has long been coveted for long lived Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as made famous by Phil Woodward and late Dick Graff who founded Chalone in 1974. And while the Burgundian varietals do well in the cooler sections, Woodward also understood early on that the Rhone grapes would excel here, something that Ian fully exploits now in his wines and I highly recommend these latest wines, especially this one. These are tough and scary times for the wine industry and while the COVID pandemic and the fires of 2020 that pretty much wiped out the vintage with smoke taint, especially in the Monterey area, so we must be grateful and celebrate our small victories and this wine provided a nice escape from the stress, it is a good time to support small producers like Ian, so check him out.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive