Rhys’s 2008s are Top Scorers in Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (May/June 2010)

by Josh Raynolds, Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (May/June 2010)

“Our style puts a lot of pressure on the vineyard because if the fruit isn’t up to it then the wine is thin and has no fruit, so it fails,” owner Kevin Harvey told me. He added that the philosophy at Rhys is “to make wines that have structure and depth but minimal weight, which is why we’re working with the least fertile sites we can plant, with minimal topsoil and steep grades.” The tightly planted Rhys vineyards, which are almost all at precarious angles reminiscent of the riverside vineyards of Europe, can only be worked by hand as there’s no machine that could function on these steep slopes. Winemaker Jeff Brinkman admitted that “this is pretty crazy in terms of labor but we’re trying to do whatever it takes, without any regard to cost, to see how far and high we can go.” The new, ridiculously engineered Rhys cellars, which sit on and burrow into a mountaintop directly across from Ridge, should be operational by this fall. This relatively new winery has probably made as big an immediate splash as I can recall in California, and the wines, which are far more about finesse and complexity than extroverted fruit, are already extremely difficult to find but are absolutely worth the effort to track down.

2008 Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 94pts

Bright yellow. Compellingly pure, complex nose melds citrus fruits, ginger, smoky minerals and a strong oyster shell quality. Impressively dense and vibrant in the mouth, conveying an impression of mineral-driven power and structure. This penetrating, voluminous wine boasts incredible depth without any impression of weight. Fruit is playing a supporting role here. The fine-grained, tactile finish offers exceptional clarity and length. This was among the finest chardonnays I tasted during my early March trip.

2008 Pinot Noir Alesia Sonoma Coast 91pts

Vivid red. Strawberry, raspberry and spicecake on the nose, with a sexy sandalwood quality. In a distinctly vibrant style, with the sexy spice and red berry qualities following through in the mouth. Sappy and fine-grained wine, finishing on a suave note of candied flowers. This will be the last vintage for this wine.

2008 Pinot Noir Bearwallow Vineyard Anderson Valley 92pts

Deep, bright red. Deep aromas of black raspberry, candied licorice and flowers, with a mineral topnote. Suave on entry, then firm and bright in the middle, with a restrained sweetness to the flavors of red and dark berries and floral pastilles. Finishes with good breadth and length and fine-grained tannins. A late note of smoky minerality adds verve.

2008 Pinot Noir Family Farm Vineyard San Mateo County 91pts

Vivid medium red. Fresh, complex nose melds musky raspberry, blood orange, smoky minerality, brown spices, mocha and underbrush. Firm, gripping and almost weightless but packed with red fruit flavors, picking up a bitter cherry pit quality with air. Finishes very long, sweet and perfumed, with fine-grained tannins and notes of singed orange and Asian spices. Pretty impressive and complex already.

2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard San Mateo County 93pts

Bright violet. High-pitched, sexy aromas of black raspberry, anise, potpourri and minerals. Vivid, sharply focused red and dark berry flavors stain the palate and are braced by tangy acidity, which adds lift and definition. Gains weight and roundness with air while maintaining admirable liveliness and clarity. Finishes with impressive persistence and lingering sweetness. No new oak on this wine.

2008 Pinot Noir Skyline Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 94pts

Bright red. Exotic, vibrant aromas of raspberry, Asian spices, fresh herbs and potpourri, all lifted by a mineral nuance. Sharply delineated, classically detailed pinot that offers a weightless impression of sweetness, spiciness and florality. Firm acids add definition and lift the wine’s flavors. Extremely complex pinot with impeccable balance. Finishes with silky tannins, pungent minerality and lovely lingering perfume. This clocks in at 12.3% alcohol and was fermented completely with whole clusters.

2008 Pinot Noir Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 93pts

Glass-staining ruby. Assertive, smoky aromas of musky cherry, Indian spices, cocoa powder, rose and licorice, plus a whiff of cured meat. Compellingly velvety and sweet on entry, then brilliantly vibrant and mineral-driven in the mid-palate, with an explosive floral pastille quality lifting the flavors of crushed dark berries and baking spices. The wine’s pungent minerality lingers on the long, gently chewy finish. This plays Richebourg to the Swan Terrace’s Romanee Saint-Vivant. The crop here was 0.7 tons per acre in 2008.

2008 Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 95pts

Bright ruby. Pure, highly expressive aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry, minerals, rose petal and spicecake. Wonderfully suave on entry, then vibrant and sappy in the middle palate, offering pungent raspberry, cherry and candied floral flavors of outstanding density and freshness. Gains power on the back half, finishing with outstanding lift, perfume and a gripping note of bitter cherry skin. Really intriguing wine and one of the highlights of my recent trip to California Winemaker Jeff Brinkman told me that these grapes were incredibly tiny.

2008 Pinot Noir Swan Terrace Santa Cruz Mountains 94pts

Vivid red. Smoky raspberry, black cherry, potpourri and a note of candied licorice on the assertive nose. Supple, sappy and sweet, showing racy, mineral-tinged red berry and floral pastille character and excellent clarity. Ripe acids give this wine a juicy, energetic and very pure quality. Finishes with delicate tannins and resonating floral and mineral tones. This is already extremely sexy.

2007 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 93pts

Deep, bright violet. Deep, intensely aromatic nose of blackberry, cherry, violet and licorice, with a smoky overtone. Lush, expansive and sweet, with a palate dominated by black fruits, spices and smoke. Finishes with velvety tannins and superb lingering sweetness.

2008 Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 92(+?)pts

Glass-staining purple. Slow-to-unfold aromas of blackberry and boysenberry, with notes of smoky minerals and violet emerging with air. More compressed than the Skyline today, offering zesty dark berry skin flavors and a sexy note of candied flowers. Becomes more peppery with air and finishes with a strong jolt of dusty minerals and excellent length.

2008 Syrah Skyline Vineyard Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains 93pts

Inky ruby. Pure, expansive aromas of blackberry, violet and rose petal, with a hint of black olive. Juicy, penetrating dark berry flavors are strikingly spicy and gain sweetness with air. More open than the Horseshoe Vineyard now, showing excellent finishing clarity and power.

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