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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2007 Brian Benson Cellars Glenrose Vineyard Syrah**
07BensonGlenroseSyrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $36 @ the Winery 8/16/11
An opaque, ruby-colored wine with tinges of purple around the edges. The nose was fairly subtle with mostly black fruit, earth, violet, leather and hints of smoke and tar. The palate is full-bodied, round and smooth with fine tannins and medium-acidity. The flavors are blackberry, plum, mocha, minerals and notes of meat and sweet spice on the medium-length finish. A big and bold wine that was enjoyable – it hit all the right Syrah notes – but it didn't make me wish I had another bottle. At 16.8% abv this is not a wine to be taken lightly. Would drink it within 6 months as the alcohol is starting to poke through. A solid first effort with fruit from this vineyard.

2007 Cass Winery Syrah***
cass05syrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $38 @ the Winery 8/24/11
A deep, ruby-colored wine with a bright nose of black raspberry, strawberry, earth, sweet spice and hints of wet leaves, leather and menthol. Made from 100% Clone 383, the palate is full-bodied, round and smooth with medium acidity and well-integrated tannins. The fruit flavors of blackberry, black raspberry and plum come together seemlessly with notes of mocha, mint, earth, oak and cinnamon on the lengthy finish. It's been several years since I had this wine and it has developed much more complexity in the bottle than I remember it having since the ripeness of the fruit has settled down a bit. At 15.8% abv I was worried about encountering some heat, but so far it seems to be hiding it well. This wine is definitely ready to go with a perfect union of the savory and sweet elements. Could hold for another year, but there's no reason to wait. (488 cases)

2007 Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah Syrah**
2007BoomBoomLabel.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Columbia Valley, WA $15 @ Dinner 6/15/09
A deep purple colored wine with cool climate aromas of earth, black fruit, herbs and hints of meat and violets. For such a young wine, the palate was well-integrated and ready to drink with ripe blackberry flavors united with the earth, oak and herbal components. Notes of vanilla cookie on the lingering finish. A blend of syrah from 5 different Columbia Valley vineyards. Have to admit the name really captured my attention and the label was just too cute as well. Thankfully, there's more to this wine than clever marketing. The third wine project from Charles Smith who's attempting to make wines that can be drunk young, but still show typicity and varietal characteristics. I think he succeeded in this bottling. A lovely, everyday syrah that's not overly complex, but still delivers real bang for the buck.

2007 Domaine de Fondreche "Persia" Cotes-du-Ventoux***
07fondreche_persia.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Rhone Valley, France $27 K&L Wines 10/10/09
A deep, ruby-purple colored wine with a strong nose of black fruit, smoke, sweet spice and hints of licorice. Made from 30-40 year-old Syrah vines with 10% Mourvedre blended in and aged in 100% new oak. The palate is medium to full-bodied with a round mouthfeel and deep flavors of blackberry, black cherry, earth, sweet spice and smoke on the lingering finish. While enjoyable now, this wine still needs another year or two in the bottle to fully come together. Well-crafted and elegant, it has all the flavors I love in a Syrah at a fairly good price for a wine from this region. One that even California wine lovers will enjoy. (14.5% abv/800 cases made)

2007 Grey Stack Cellars "The Narcissist" Syrah***
GreyStackNarcissist.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Sonoma, CA $48 @ The Winery 11/21/11
While Sonoma isn't exactly known for Syrah it should be, especially those grown in the Bennett Valley like this one. An opaque, purple-black wine with intense aromas of blackberry, black cherry, earth, licorice and spice with hints of meat and vanilla. The palate is full-bodied and powerful, yet not over-ripe with well-balanced acidity and fine tannins. The flavors reflect the nose with notes of garrigue, mocha and minerals on the lingering finish. Aged for 18 months in new French Oak, there was only one barrel designated to be good enough to produce this wine. Complex and entrancing it kept me intrigued from the first sip to the last. Perhaps too big for it's own good, a bit more restraint and elegance would have knocked it out of the park, however, that's mere nitpicking. A winner from year to year that's worth every penny. While enjoyable now, it has the depth and power to go for at least a few more years. Winemaker Peter Young really knows what he's doing with this grape. (15.5% abv/25 cases)

2007 Mollydooker "The Boxer" Shiraz***
07mollyboxer.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
South Australia $25 Wine Discount Center 9/13/09
A deep, opaque, purple-colored wine (sourced from McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Padthaway) with a bright nose of dark fruit, smoke, minerals and hints of sweet spice. The palate is full-bodied and teeth-coating with well-integrated, ripe tannins and medium acidity that makes this wine brighter than expected. The flavors are all blackberry, blackcurrant and plum with smoke, spice and notes of tar on the lingering, rich finish. This wine is a mouthfull and has some subtlety despite its 16% abv. The Man got some heat on the finish, I thought the alcohol was well-integrated. Looked at the bottle to see and was surprised. We popped and poured and it was drinking beautifully within 10-15 minutes. A wine that can certainly age, but is a real pleasure now, if you like big, bold wines. Going to hold onto my second bottle for another year to see how it evolves. Buy it if you can find it.

2007 Terry Hoage "The Hedge" Syrah***
07THVHedge.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $45 @ the Winery 8/10/11
An opaque, ruby-colored wine with a tinge of purple and an aromatic nose of blackberry, black cherry, earth, leather, sweet spice and hints of graphite. The palate is big and bold with fine tannins and moderate acidity though still has finesse despite its 15.5% abv. The flavors are deep, mirroring the nose with additional notes of wet leaves, mocha, smoke and tar on the lingering finish, which shows no sign of heat. This is definitely a Central Coast syrah, but it manages to walk the fine line between overblown and intense, delivering more than just an overripe fruit bomb with many layers of savory components that hold your interest and kept me going back to the glass for more. A wine for a cold night by the fire. While I think it still has a few years left, it's definitely in its wheelhouse. Enjoy within the next 6monts to a year before the alcohol starts to poke through and the fruit begins to fade. Expensive but it delivers.

2006 Barrel 27 "Right Hand Man" Syrah**
barrel27righthand.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Central Coast, CA $15 @ Silverlake Wine 9/26/09
A deep, ruby/purple colored wine with rich aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum and black pepper with notes of smoke, mocha and vanilla. On the palate, the wine is deep and round with flavors of black raspberry and cherry with spice notes of mocha, mint and even more pepper and raspberry on the lengthy finish. A complex mix of fruit, earth and spice, we popped and poured this wine, which shows off its cool-climate flavors beautifully. At least it did to me. I think this is an amazing, inexpensive wine that's ready to go now and should be delicious for at least another year or two. My husband was less enthusiastic, not getting any of the savory characteristics, which left him rather unimpressed overall. The pepper is so obvious to me, though well-integrated, I just can't see how he couldn't taste it. Perhaps a slight cold is to blame. Either way, you won't find many better versions of Syrah for this price. Pick up a bottle and see for yourself. Was great with our Trader Joe's BBQ ribs. Even he agreed about that.

2006 Caliza Winery Syrah***
06CalizaSyrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $45 @ The Winery 11/23/11
An almost opaque, ruby-purple colored wine with intense aromas of ripe black berries, earth, meat and minerals with hints of vanilla and cedar. The palate is full-bodied, lush and creamy with just enough acidity to keep it from being overblown. The flavors reflect the nose with blackberry and blackraspberry fruit upfront married perfectly with secondary notes of meat, anise, slate and mocha with a super long sweet oak finish. This is the first wine I bought from Caliza and I wish I had the forethought to buy more than one bottle. It comes in at 16.5% abv, but there was no hint of heat even as it sat open over the course of the evening, which I found surprising at this age. Popped and poured this wine is in its sweet spot, if you like Syrahs made in this intense, super-ripe style. It tows a fine line, with a streak of elegant tannins and minerality that hold it in balance. Wouldn't wait much longer to drink this one. Made from fruit from the Russell Family Vineyards. Will be interesting to see how Caliza's wines change when their estate fruit comes online over the next few years. What great California wine is all about. Francophiles need not bother.

2006 Cass Winery Syrah***
cass05syrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $34 @ the Winery 11/18/08
A medium-deep, ruby-colored wine that has a nose filled with black fruits and earth with notes of smoke and meat. Just bottled and released this wine was really tight and acidic upon first pour, but got smoother and deeper as the night went on. The palate is medium-bodied, well-structured and intense with blackberry, black cherry, prune, smoke, sweet spice and hints of vanilla and leather on the medium finish. A wine that initally tasted like the lighter bodied 04 and finished like the bolder 05, both of which are drinking really well right now. Personally, I'd lay this wine down for at least a year or decant it for several hours if you just can't wait. The flavors are there, they're just not completely united just yet.

Retasted 8/22/09: When I'm right, I'm right. This wine is now fully integrated and drinking beautifully with great weight and depth of flavor from the first sip to the last. Still has a lot of life to it with no hint of its 15.5% abv. Going to get more before it's all gone and see how it continues to evolve, which is becoming quite a fun experiment.

Retasted 12/12/10: While still drinking well, this wine is definitely beginning to lose some of its primary fruit flavors, which is making the alcohol poke through just a bit. While the previous profile notes still hold true, to get the most out of this bottle I would drink it within the next 6mos to a year.

2006 Chateau de Campuget 1753 Syrah***
06Campuget1753Syrah.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Costieres de Nimes, France $18 The Green Spot 9/20/10
A medium-deep, ruby-colored wine with a moderate nose of black fruit, sweet spice, mocha, earth and a notes of violets and licorice. The palate is medium-bodied and well-balanced with finely integrated tannins and flavors of blackberry, blackcurrant and earth with notes of tobacco and vanilla on the lengthy finish. Drinks much lusher than its 13%abv suggests. Was so well-crafted I was surprised that the abv was so low. Popped and poured, this wine is very accessible right now though certainly has the structure to age for serveral more years. Shows what Syrah should be all about and is a bottle I hope to experience again. Great QPR.

2006 Dom. Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz- Viognier***
terlato.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Victoria, Australia $18 The Wine House 4/14/08
A medium ruby-colored wine with a big, youthful nose filled with red fruit and sweet spice aromas along with hints of pepper, herbs and violets. The palate follows with bold flavors of red currant, blackberry, cloves, pepper and a good finish of vanilla and oak. While good now this wine could use some time in the bottle to settle the alcohol and fully integrate the flavors. A great, affordable example of cool climate Syrah from two of the best winemakers in the business.

2006 Dry Stack Cellars "Marie's Block" Syrah****
DryStack06Maries.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Sonoma, CA $38 Private Party 3/7/09
An inky ruby-purple colored wine with a deep array of aromas including blackberry, espresso, spice, meat, lavender and earth. We just popped and poured and the palate was lush and integrated with flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, licorice, earth, and smokey oak on its lengthy and lingering finish. A wonderful and well-balanced cool climate Syrah that made me want to jump into the glass. Was impressed from the first sip to the last. Well worth it's price tag and one of the best wines I've tasted this year. If you see it buy it.(Due to legal proceedings the winery has been forced to change its name. It is now called Grey Stack Cellars though this wine is still using their original name.) OTHER RATINGS: Wine Spectator: 92

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**** Outstanding | *** Delicious | ** Enjoyable | * Drinkable
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