Recommended: Donelan Syrah


As a wine writer, I have to remain open to every sample bottle that comes my way. And, of course, some are better than others--that’s why I only write about the ones I can personally recommend: With so much out there, and consumers justifiably confused when it comes to making wine-purchasing decisions, it’s important to highlight the producers and vintages that they should look for when the time comes to spend their money.

So when I tasted a sampling of the 2010 Syrahs from Donelan, I knew immediately that I would not just write about them, but recommend them in the strongest possible terms.

These wines embody exactly what Syrah can do in California when planted in carefully selected vineyards, farmed in such a way that the natural terroir is afforded the opportunity to shine through, and crafted in the winery with a goal, as their Web site says, of “[discovering] California wines that are distinct because of a unique terroir, or a unique interaction of vine and environment.” In order to accomplish this, Donelan’s philosophy is refreshingly straightforward: “when it comes to winemaking, we do everything we can to do very little.”

The result, from what I’ve tasted, are wines of distinct character, beautiful expressiveness, and, depending on the specific bottling, remarkable aging potential. I recommend them in the strongest terms.

Donelan Syrah “Cuvee Christine” 2010, Sonoma County
Black-purple color, like a beautiful bruise, or like a crushed black cherry. Aromas of huckleberry, melted licorice, hoisin sauce, and aromatic whole pink peppercorns are beguiling in their complexity. Flavors of black raspberry, black cherry, Middle Eastern spices, and vanilla are savory and young, and promise to evolve further hints of black tea, a bit more smoke, and beef carpaccio. Drink 2013 - 2025. 

Donelan Syrah “Obsidian Vineyard” 2010, Knights Valley
Exceptionally perfumed white and pink peppercorns mingle with fennel seeds, licorice, black cherry and raspberry, pipe tobacco, and pomegranate syrup. The flavors are a bit subdued right now, with subtle cherry, black plum, coffee, venison, black tea, and mineral that promise to really explode with a bit of time in the cellar. This will be excellent, but wait for now. Drink 2016 - 2027.

Donelan Syrah “Walker Vine Hill” 2010, Russian River Valley
Effusive, rich cherry, dark raspberry, and blackberry conserve aromas mingle with toast, beef carpaccio and peppercorn, and turn to very well-defined flavors of blackberry, black cherry, peppercorn, cinnamon and subtle oak spice, with hints of tar and black-cherry pipe tobacco sweeping in on the finish. It’s all structured by elegant tannins and perfect acidity, making it delicious and concentrated right now, but still with the potential to improve. This will be a stunner in a few years. Drink 2014 - 2025+.