Matthiasson, Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah "Zayante Vineyard"
Matthiasson, Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah "Zayante Vineyard"

Matthiasson, Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah "Zayante Vineyard"

California, United States 2021 (750mL)
Regular price$74.00

Matthiasson, Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah "Zayante Vineyard"

The SommSelect team recently gathered together just a few miles from our home office, to meet with Jill Matthiasson at the relatively new winery and headquarters of her and her husband Steve’s now-iconic Napa Valley winemaking business. After a tour of the surrounding “Phoenix” vineyard, we sat down to taste a full lineup of current releases. Every wine was outstanding, balanced and elegant, which is the Matthiasson calling card. But, the surprising standout was a single-vineyard Syrah sourced not from Napa, but from the Santa Cruz Mountains, over 100 miles away. The wine was bursting with juicy red and black fruit, and had loads of classic savory spices, all wrapped in a silky, finely structured body. It was easily one of the finest California Syrahs any of us had tasted in a very long time. And not only was it excellent right out of the gate, but it seemed to have a lot more complexity hiding underneath that will likely emerge with more time in the bottle. Of course the Matthiassons only made tiny amounts, so don’t wait to grab a stash before it is gone!

For almost three decades now, Jill and Steve Matthiasson have been on the cutting edge of what is sometimes called “Nouveau California” wine. Clever nicknames aside, what they have done is turn the focus to the vineyard and the farming first, working organically and convincing many others to follow suit. In the cellar, they have also helped usher in an era where balance, finesse, and ageability are prized over hedonistic, “fruit-bomb” powerhouses designed for immediate pleasure and high scores. Of course, the Matthiassons would say that the best California wines were always made that way, and point to the “golden era” in Napa Valley. And they’re right, but they’re also endearingly humble.

Five years ago, the Matthiassons were able to purchase a few acres of vineyards on a hill in the Oak Knoll AVA of Napa Valley, known as “Phoenix Vineyard.” Along with some gnarly old vines, the property had an existing structure that they converted into a new, temperature-controlled winery. Today the building has a larger fermentation area with mostly steel tanks, and a smaller barrel room complete with a few prized Stockinger barrels from Austria. This is Napa, so Cabernet Sauvignon (more on that later, Cab lovers) and other Bordeaux varieties dominate, but the Matthiassons are also well known for their Linda Vista Chardonnay and a super-dry, mineral rosé. What they are not known for, yet, is Santa Cruz Syrah. Which is exactly why we were so surprised at how effortlessly perfect this wine was. 

How did this unlikely wine even enter the Matthiasson portfolio? It turns out that an old grad school friend of Jill’s, Prudy Foxx, owns and farms a small vineyard called “Zayante” high in the Santa Cruz mountains, and when she was looking to sell some fruit everything came together serendipitously. Of course, just the name “Prudy Foxx” is almost enough reason to take an interest in her vineyard, but the really important feature is that she farms it entirely organically and without irrigation. Of course “organic” and “dry farmed” are music to the Matthiassons’ ears, and they were more than happy to start working with Prudy’s pristine Syrah. The vineyard sits at 1,160 feet in elevation, on soils of sandstone, schist, and shale, and is surrounded by redwoods and pines. The Pacific fog provides for cool mornings and evenings, and the bright California sun shines all afternoon which leads to a long growing season, perfect for Syrah.

With exceptional terroir and excellent fruit, the Matthiasson team is content to mostly get out of the way in the cellar and let nature be the winemaking guide. But they do make a few key decisions, including the use of 100% whole-cluster fermentation, and aging in only neutral puncheons. The result is silky, savory Syrah that has one foot in the door of Saint-Joseph, and the other firmly planted in the sappy, fruit-forward paradise of the Coastal California Mountains. Serve it cool, at around 60 degrees, in a Burgundy stem and you’ll get waves of black raspberries, wild strawberries, red plums, black and green peppercorn, cedar, pine needle, and earthy, forest floor. This medium bodied beauty will pair well with a range of dishes, from classic cassoulet to tacos al pastor, but since we’re settling into fall a rich, Italian style wild boar stew seems just the ticket. Only 130 cases of the “Zayante” were made, and many of those are already resting in the cellars of Matthiasson customers, so don’t wait to grab a few before they’re gone!

Matthiasson, Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah "Zayante Vineyard"

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