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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2006 Foxen Winery Toasted Rope Syrah****
06FoxenSyrahTR.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $40 @ The Winery 1/10/12
I first tried this wine in November 2008 and was so blown away by it, I bogarted more than my fair share and then made the trek to the winery to get a bottle for myself. When I cracked it four years later, I was terrified that it would be corked or past its prime. Thankfully it was neither. While it may have lost some of its upfront fruit and is not exactly at its peak, this is a wine to be reckoned with. It had everything I love about Syrah (though it has 15% Viognier blended in). The wine was a medium-deep ruby with a complex nose of cassis, blackberry, plum, wet leaves, licorice and hints of flowers, coffee and mocha. The palate was full-bodied and smooth with fine tannins and well-balanced acidity, which gave the mouthfeel a brightness not usually found in big, Central Coast Syrahs. I was worried about perhaps getting some heat (it comes in at 15.8% abv), but there was no trace of the alcohol. Aged for 15 months in French Oak (40% new), the flavors from the nose followed through with additional notes of minerals, smoke and pepper on the very lengthy finish. Elegant and intense, it kept me intrigued all night. Great QPR. Too bad it's so hard to come by.

2006 Frei Brothers Russian River Syrah**
06freibrosSyrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Sonoma, CA $17 Hows Market 5/3/09
A dark ruby/purple colored wine with a deep bouquet of black fruit, pepper, earth and smoke. The palate is medium-bodied with complex flavors of blackberry, plum and black cherry with notes of sweet spice and mocha with well-integrated tannins on the lingering finish. A smooth, cool climate syrah that shows a great deal of depth and elegance for the price. Give it some air though. Was much better the second day. Quite a surprise for a mass-produced wine mostly sold in grocery stores. I guess they do exist.

2006 Grey Stack Cellars "The Narcissist" Syrah***
GreyStackNarcissist.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Sonoma, CA $48 @ The Winery 12/11/09
An inky, opaque, purple-colored wine with a deep nose of black fruit and earth with notes of smoke and pepper. A blend of their three favorite barrels from Marie's Block, this wine was aged in 100% new French Oak for 18 months, which delivers a full-bodied, intense wine with blackberry, plum and currant flavors with a persistant, savory, black pepper finish. A wine that needed aeration to soften the tannins and bring out the fruit. Well-integrated and subtle, we emptied the bottle so fast we thought it had a hole in the bottom. Doesn't have the brightness or complexity of the Marie's Block, but still a delicious experience that hides its' 15.8% abv seamlessly. A man's wine to be sure that should age for quite some time. (72 cases)

ReTasted 5/28/11: Just couldn't wait. Almost a year and a half later, I think this wine may be on its way down. There's just not enough fruit to counter the high abv. No burn yet, but the complexity it showed before is diminishing. Drink up before the heat shows up. OTHER RATINGS: Wine Spectator: 94

2006 Hocus Pocus Reset Syrah***
06hocuspocus.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $18 K&L Wines 11/01/10
A medium-deep, ruby-garnet colored wine with an expressive nose of black fruit, plum and earth along with hints of spice, cedar and leather. The palate is medium-full-bodied with low tannins and medium acidity that perfectly balances the fruit flavors. The regular bottling spends 14 months in 1-yead-old barrels, the Reset version, I believe was aged for another 6 months. The palate reflects the nose with ripe fruit flavors with the addition of black cherry and notes of vanilla, oak and leather on the lingering finish. This tastes much deeper and richer than its 14.5% abv suggests and delivers great complexity for the price. Though we popped and poured this wine, it has at least a few more years left in the bottle. They are already onto the 08 vintage. Grab a few bottles if you can find them. I know I will be. (225 cases)

2006 Marquis Philips Sara's Blend Shiraz**
92313l.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
South Eastern, Australia $20 Wine.com 9/28/07
It offers up fragrant aromas of cedar, smoke, tar, blueberry, and blackberry liqueur. Full-bodied, opulent, and structured, this intense, well-balanced Shiraz will evolve for 2-3 years. Needs time in the bottle. Took over an hour to really open up and show it's true colors. Not as fruit forward as others from the region. (Robert Parker: 91)

2006 Pipestone Winery Syrah**
Pipestonelabel.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $32 @ The Winery 12/8/11
A deep, ruby colored wine with a moderate nose of blackberry, black cherry, smoke and pepper with hints of meat and vanilla. The palate was full-bodied with medium acidity and a round texture along with dusty tannins. The flavors reflected the nose, making the wine pleasant to drink but not very complex or memorable. If I had tasted it blind I would have sworn it was Mourvedre. Aged for 24 months in French and American oak, it's ready to go now. A nice wine, however, you can get much more interesting Syrahs at this price point. One of my initial favorite wineries in Paso Robles. If you like Rhone wines they are worth a visit. (14.9% abv)

2006 Samsara Ampelos Vineyard Syrah***
06Samsara_Syrah_Ampelos.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $36 @ the Winery 6/27/11
An opaque, ruby-purple colored with a complex nose of black fruit, leather and black pepper with hints of tar, mocha and herbs. The palate is full-bodied and round, with well-integrated, yet firm tannins and flavors that reflect the nose with additional notes of wet leaves and oak on the persistent finish. At 15.8% abv, I expected a fruit bomb with some heat poking through, but the acidity holds the ripeness in check, as does the 25% new French Oak. This is a powerful wine, yet shows great finesse and depth of flavor. There's a lot going on here and it has all come together seamlessly. This vintage was a cool one, and along with aggressive work in the vineyard, winemaker Chad Melville has crafted an impressive cool climate Syrah. While I think it still has some time left in the bottle, there's no reason to wait any longer. This is a wine that makes you think, as you rush back for more. Need to get my hands on the current vintage. (96 cases)

2006 Spicerack Vineyards "Punchdown" Syrah**
spicerack.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Sonoma Coast, CA $20 Mission Wines 4/26/08
A medium-bodied, ruby-colored wine with a bright nose filled with blackberry, pepper and spice that follow through on the restrained palate. The lack of oak aging (they used all neutral barrels) causes the wine to be a bit one-dimensional and leaves it a little thin on the finish, but a pleasant, fruity effort for the price.

2006 Terra Bella Vineyard Syrah***
06TerraBellaSyrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $35 @ the winery 6/16/11
An opaque, magenta-colored wine with a sultry nose of black fruit, wet slate, licorice, plum, leather and a hint of minty herbs. The palate is full-bodied with fine, firm tannins, medium acidity and a long finish filled with notes of smoke, minerals and sweet spice. This is a very structured and elegant, cool climate version of Syrah with the ripe fruit well-constrained and beginning to fade just a bit, which is allowing a touch of heat to poke through (15.5%). Made by Andrew Murray, a man who knows his way around the Rhone varietals, this is one that will make you stand and take notice. Aged for 18 months in 25% new French oak with the balance in 1-3 year old barrels. This was only the 2nd vintage from this winery and vineyard and it is definitely one to watch. A wine that makes you think while you're drinking which doesn't happen to often.

2006 This Is E11even Purple Haze Syrah**
06purplehaze.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $25 @ The Winery 10/15/11
Made in the Cote Rotie style, this second label offering from Andrew Murray is 90% Syrah (from Verna's Vineyard in Cat Canyon) blended with 10% Viognier. The wines for this label are being crafted in a rock-n-roll-inspired, bending-the-rules style at a more affordable price than his main Andrew Murray offerings. Popped and poured the wine was ready to go showing moderate aromatics of black fruit, sweet spice, wet leaves and notes of cinnamon and leather. It was an opaque, ruby color, smooth and mouth-coating with moderate acidity and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, earth, mocha and licorice on the finish. A well-crafted wine for the price that delivered all the right varietal notes. Not the most complex Syrah I've had this month, however, if more versions in this price point tasted this good I think more people would be jumping on the Syrah bandwagon. Andrew Murray has been crafting Rhone wines for 20 years and his talent shows through here. Unfortunately he only made 3 barrels/77 cases, so there aren't many people who are going to get to enjoy this wine. I'm glad I was one of them and look forward to future This Is E11even efforts. (15.9%abv)

2006 Thompkin Cellars Syrah**
06ThompkinSyrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $36 @ the Winery 3/13/11
A deep ruby colored wine with a bold nose of blackberry, black cherry, wet leaves and mushroom with hints of herbs and sweet spice. The palate is full-bodied, lush and round with low acidity and tannins. The flavors are of blackberry, graphite, leather and cassis with notes of vanilla and mint on the lengthy finish. Would have given this wine another star but the alcohol (16%abv) is definitely noticeable, giving a hint of raisin as it lingers in your mouth. A complex mixture of ripe fruit and savory characteristics. Would have been much better a year ago. Drink now before the heat completely takes over.

2006 2 Up Shiraz**
2upshiraz.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
South Australia $13 BevMo 3/9/09
A deep ruby/purple colored wine with ripe black fruit aromas along with hints of oak, sweet spice and plum. The palate is round and integrated with dusty blackberry, mocha, plum, black cherry and hints of earth and mint on the moderate finish. It was a bit hot the first night, but not the second which brought the earthy/herb aspects more to the forefront. It has a little more going on than most wines in this price point and was a great everyday sipper. (Wine Enthusiast: 88)

2006 Vie Winery Las Madres Syrah***
06Vielasmadres.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Sonoma County, CA $40 Red Carpet 4/26/08
This deep, ruby/purple wine has a nose filled with black fruits and spice that follow through on the full-bodied palate. The tannins and acidity are well-balanced and the moderate alcohol (14%) keeps the wine from being flabby. The mouthfeel is smooth, allowing the flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black olive, sweet spice and black pepper to merge on a lingering finish that hints of meat and oak. More restrained than many Syrahs, which allows the complexity to shine through.

2005 Anglim Winery Syrah**
Anglim05Syrah.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $24 @ the Winery 2/2/10
A deep, ruby-colored wine with a bright nose of blackberry, plum, earth, herbs and spice. The palate is medium-bodied and round with the same flavors found on the nose along with notes of mocha, tobacco and a hint of caramel on the medium-length finish. The wine has 2% Viognier and was barrel-aged for 27 months in French oak, 20% new, which helps to soften the wine. Ready to go now, this is a well-crafted wine though not as complex as others from the region. Just lovely, spicy and fruit-forward, this is a wine that delivers great QPR for the price and is really good with food. (14.6% abv)

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