Zaca Mesa has long been one of my favorite California producers. They've concentrated on Rhone varieties, my weakness, since the 1970s; they have never seemed to be too full of themselves; they’re located in the Santa Ynez Valley part of the Santa Barbara wine country, not in the glare of the North Coast spotlight; and they generally make really nice wine. They’ve gone through a few changes of ownership and ambition, but are now on what seems like to me the right track, focused on estate-grown Rhone reds and whites.
So it was a happy day when the delivery fella brought me samples of three new Zaca releases: one stunner, one that may have seen better vintages, and one that suits an acquired taste—a taste which, fortunately, I have most certainly acquired.
The stunner is the 2006 Roussanne. For all the fuss about Viognier, this may be my favorite Rhone white grape, here in a full-throated version—100% Roussanne; nearly a year in oak, most of it new; and a substantial 14.5% alcohol. The wine is perfectly balanced, refreshingly acidic, deeply flavored with figs and honey, and possessed of enough finish to last you through two or three forkfuls of food.
Zaca’s Z Cuvée is their entry in the Rhone blend derby, and it has been a tasty concoction with good value for years. The 2006 is perfectly serviceable and drinkable, but the sheen of oak—even though very little of it is new wood—on top of a comparatively modest mouthful of fruit makes the wine more simple and candified than usual. (At least to my rapidly failing memory.)
And then there’s the Syrah—from 2004, long enough ago to have a bit of bottle age and to have come together. What’s acquired about a taste for this wine is that it’s not in the generic California style; it’s quite dry, fairly grippy, has nice acidity, and comes at you with herbs and other indefinable things other than sheer fruit. I love this style of Syrah, and usually have to buy from another continent to get it. The second half of he bottle, with a day’s aeration, was even more fun. Not sure if these numbers mean anything, but the Syrah turns out to have slightly less alcohol and slightly more acid than the Z Cuvee, according to the tech sheets .
Best of all, the whole line-up comes with rational pricing.
Price: Roussanne $25, Z Cuvée $20, Syrah $22. Alcohol: Roussanne 14.5%, Z Cuvée 15.0%, Syrah 14.5%. Points: Bonus points for holding a Syrah two years and letting it grow up before release.