Five wines from tri-county vintners have been ranked among the world’s Top 100 by Wine Spectator magazine. Tensley Wines’ 2017 Colson Canyon Vineyard syrah from Santa Barbara County is the highest rated from the area at No. 14 in the 2019 list.
Three other wines, also Rhones, are in the top 22. They are Denner Vineyards’ 2016 Dirt Worshipper syrah from five Central Coast vineyards at No. 18, Sans Liege winery’s 2016 Rhone blend, The Offering, at No. 20, and Saxum’s 2016 James Berry Vineyard grenache-based blend at No. 22. Cambria’s 2017 Katherine’s Vineyard chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley is No. 61.
Tensley Wines, a 5,000-case producer owned by Joey and Jennifer Tensley, was established in 1998 to focus on vineyard-designate syrah from Santa Barbara County. Their tasting room is in Los Olivos. The 2017 Colson Canyon syrah is their second vintage from that vineyard since they purchased it in 2016 in what they have said is a dream come true. They’ve been sourcing from the vineyard in the Santa Maria highlands since 2000, and on their website they say it’s been a real superstar for them. Tensley Colson Canyon syrahs have earned two previous spots on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list and a Best Syrah in America over $20 award from Food and Wine magazine in 2008.
Since taking ownership at Colson Canyon, Tensley has thinned canopies, dropped fruit to lower yields and closely monitored watering to obtain intense flavors. “This wine is rich and deep with decadent notes of chocolate, bacon and black fruits,” the winery says in tasting notes for the 2017 syrah.
Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles reached Wine Spectator’s Top 20 in the world for the second time. Its 2016 Dirt Worshipper syrah is No. 18 in this year’s Top 100, following a No. 11 for its 2008 Dirt Worshipper.
Denner’s winemaker, Anthony Yount, rated the 2016 Dirt Worshipper as hands down his all-time favorite bottling of the syrah. “I look down this (Wine Spectator) list and see so many wines and winemakers that I’ve looked up to my entire career. It really is an honor to be listed alongside some of the finest wines in the world,” he said.
Grapes from six Central Coast vineyards went into the 2016 Dirt Worshipper. The blend is 30 percent from Denner’s estate in Paso Robles’ Willow Creek district and the rest is from Duvarita Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, Slide Hill in the Edna Valley, and Bassetti, Stolo and Boulder Ridge in San Luis Obispo County.
Sans Liege is an eye-catching name at No. 20 on the list for its 2016 Rhone blend called The Offering. Winemaker Curt Schalchlin’s brand name is translated as “without allegiance,” signaling his independence as equally aligned with the heritage of France’s Rhone Valley and the freedoms of the New World. He has tasting rooms in Pismo Beach and Paso Robles.
The Offering from 2016 is a blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre and viognier from Santa Barbara County vineyards. It earned a 94 point score from Wine Spectator.
No. 22 in the Top 100, Saxum’s 2016 James Berry Vineyard Rhone blend, received a stratospheric score of 100 from wine critic Jeb Dunnick, who called it “one of the greatest GSM blends to come out of California.” It’s a blend of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and counoise from Saxum’s estate vineyard owned by the Smith family. Winemaker Justin Smith wrote that “the 2016 vintage is one of the finest, if not THE finest vintage to come around in our 17 years of Saxum.”
Saxum limits its production of Rhone wines from Paso Robles’ Willow Creek district to 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year. Irrigation is rarely needed, according to the winery, because roots penetrate deep through fissures in calcareous soil that contains fossilized shells from an ancient seabed.
Cambria Estate Winery’s 2017 Katherine’s Vineyard chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley landed at No. 61 on the Top 100 list. The vineyard is named after Katie Jackson, co-proprietor of the winery with her sister Julia along with their mother and co-founder, Barbara Banke. The vineyard is located on the Santa Maria Bench, an area of what marketers call “refrigerated sunshine” because of the cool marine influence that promotes acid retention in the grapes, enhancing the fruit characters of the wine.
Wine Spectator scored the 2017 Katherine’s Vineyard chardonnay at 91 points, describing it as “well-structured with a smoky richness to the mineral-infused apple and pear tart flavors. The fresh, spicy finish lingers with a creamy texture.”
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]