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A few weeks back I had a chance to sit down with Tim Spear, the co-proprietor/resident winemaking wizard/head philosopher of Paso Robles's Clos Mimi. The impetus was a recommendation I'd made for his 2005 Petite Rousse in this blog a while back; he'd read it and happened to be in town for a few days, so it made sense to sit down and taste the rest (or some of the rest) of his wines. (Geek alert: this entry is long and perhaps overly in depth, but the wines impressed the hell out of me, so why not?)
Spear's one of those appealingly ambitious winemakers who seems to prioritize trying to make great wine—"a wine that will be alive in fifty years" as he put it—over commercial concerns like actually selling the stuff. This puts him in a precarious albeit admirable position, as far as I can see, since the mundane world largely doesn't give a rat's ass if you're driven by a desire to create profound wine, but it certainly does care if you can't pay the mortgage on your winery.
But, if there were any justice in the world, Spear would be making piles of cash, because he's definitely making remarkable Syrah. To wit:
2003 Clos Mimi Brave Oak Syrah ($50) "One of the warmest vineyards I buy grapes from," Spear says, which shows in the density and richness of the smoky blackberry fruit here. Very sauvage, as the French might say (Spear takes inspiration from Guigal's great Côte Rôties, La Turque and La Mouline, so I'd say it's ok to whip out a slightly snooty French reference here), with lots of resinous leather and black pepper notes.
2003 Clos Mimi Shell Creek Syrah ($59) Spear hasn't bottled a new vintage of this wine since '99, having declassified the '00, '01 and '02. Distinctive black raspberry liqueur aroma and flavor, underscored by herbal (not herbaceous) notes, bright acidity, a seductively silky texture, and an appealing stoniness on the finish. Just terrific, in other words—though also, in its silkiness and translucency of flavor, against the grain for California Syrah (and appealingly so). Spear commented that "Shell Creek has these big, truffle-sized chunks of limestone, and I attribute the silkiness to that aspect of the soil—this is kind of my Le Méal, without the extreme 75˚ slope," referring to the great Chapoutier Hermitage of that name.
2002 Clos Mimi White Hawk Vineyard ($72) All of these wines spend a long time in barrel, but this was the most extreme, at 42 months. My internal reaction was basically, "Yikes—why not just kill the damn thing with oak?" when I was told this, but in fact the wine doesn't show an excess of oak character. While it is huge and black, with smoky oak notes, the intense blackberry fruit soaks up the wood very effectively, resolving into peppery tannins at the end. The oak strategy is in fact something Speak picked up from Guigal. "The first 12 to 18 months, the wine's all oak planks," he noted, "but then it changes; plus, if you're going that long, you need less toast. And Syrah's reductive by nature, so it can take up all that oxygen it's exposed to." Sounds plausible to me; at the very least, the proof is in the wine in this case.
These wines are hard to find, since they're produced in small quantities, but they definitely aren't sold out; head to the Clos Mimi website if they pique your interest.
As a side note, one of the reasons Spear was in town was to celebrate the release of a new wine he's bottling specifically for the Carlyle Hotel. Should you happen to be staying there, a bottle will be in your room, and unlike most wines sitting in hotel rooms upon arrival, this one—a savory Syrah with intense black cherry flavors and bright firm acidity—is actually well worth opening.