Bottle Notes, Random Musings, Zinfandel

Has the Recipe at Carlisle Changed?

2005 Carlisle Russian River Valley Zin

Robert Dwyer of Wellesley Wine Blog recently tweeted a less-than-favorable impression of 2010 Carlisle Sonoma County Syrah. I respect Robert’s palate and think my tastes are somewhat aligned with his, so I was surprised that he did not enjoy a staple from one of my favorite producers.

I began to wonder: Has the “recipe” at Carlisle changed?

I’ve had the opportunity to try a few of the ’10 Carlisle Zins myself, and thought they might be a departure from what I’ve come to expect from Mike Officer’s wines. I decided to check in on two different vintages of one of my favorite Carlisle bottlings to see if and how they differed. Keep in mind that there was a heat spike in August of 2010 and Carlisle Vineyard yields were down by 80%, which forced them to blend the fruit with that from the Montafi Vineyard.

’05 Carlisle Zinfandel Carlisle Vineyard – Dark garnet in color and just starting to fade slightly on the edges. The wine checks in at 15.9% ABV but at first taste the alcohol is totally in check. Somehow the wine is concentrated and plush yet light on its feet at the same time. Red fruits, earth and just a slight touch of vanilla on the nose. Raspberries, eucalyptus, mineral and flowers on the palate. The finish is long and spicy. For me this wine stands apart from many of the other Carlisle single vineyards Zinfandels. It is almost always less jammy and hedonistic but to its credit, more elegant and balanced. Well done! My rating: 94 points.

’10 Carlisle Zinfandel Old Vines – This wine is 50% Carlisle Vineyard and 50% Montafi Vineyard. 15.9% ABV. Dark purple in color. Blackberry, clove, vanilla and a touch of heat on the nose. The palate is super concentrated with raspberry, framboise, spice, blueberry and raisin. The finish is long, slightly hot and has a healthy dose of tannins. My rating: 91 points.

My takeaway is that ’10 Carlisle Zins, though delicious, are slightly more tannic and hot than what I’m used to from Carlisle. To answer my own question, I do not think the recipe has changed at Carlisle. I do think Mike Officer made some really nice wines in spite of what nature threw his way with the extremely difficult ’10 vintage.

I’ve blogged about Carlisle previously in Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings and Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5.

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2 thoughts on “Has the Recipe at Carlisle Changed?

  1. Hey Tom!

    Thanks for the shout out. It’s always fun to compare notes – in this case especially.

    Yeah, I’ve had a rough time with the Carlisle wines I’ve tried. After hearing such uniformly positive support for their wines over the years and finally getting an allocation I was bummed not to really enjoy them.

    Here are some I tried along with my ratings:

    2010 Carlisle Zin Sonoma 91 points
    2009 Carlisle Zin Carlisle 88 points
    2009 Carlisle Syrah Cardiac 85 points
    (plus a couple others I didn’t record notes for in the mid ’80s)

    It’s not that they were “bad” (though some were quite disappointing). It’s just that I was hoping for more given the hype. In the end, given the pricey shipping and overall experience I think I’ll not order any more and let someone else move up their allocation list.

    The raisiny note you spotted on the 2010 is disconcerting to me. I like luscious California wines, and even ripe ones. But when I hear raisins or prunes I know I won’t like the flavor profile.


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