This month we turn to Sonoma, exploring the region by way of our newest producer from the area, Pax Mahle. We’re so excited to have Pax’s wines on the shelves, in fact, that this will be the second club feature for them since they landed early this summer. (The first was in Club Sauvage). Pax is unique in that they craft solidly natural wines across the board, some being light and crushable, and others being among the most serious, compelling bottlings of California wine being produced today. This month’s Dirt selections are among the latter camp. This month we delve into their newest releases of the 2018 vintage, their standard-bearer North Coast Syrah, along with their stunning–if slightly under-the-radar–Chenin Blanc.
Now, the Pax Mahle story follows the vein of similar stories you’ve probably hear us tell before when it comes to forward-thinking, new wave California winemakers. There are buzzwords that come to mind and inevitably apply here–cool climate, elegance-minded, minimal intervention. They may even be clichés at this point, but they matter. But Pax’s story is a bit more nuanced. His journey in wine began as a sommelier with a deep appreciation both for classic French and American wines. As he ventured into winemaking, he focused less on style and more on site expression. As a result, he made wines from both warm and cool climate sites under the Pax label, preferring to let the vineyard express itself rather than imposing his own style upon it. That said, the classic Pax wine is his North Coast Syrah, a blend of mostly cool climate sites, that is clearly made in an old-school Northern Rhône style.
Clocking in under 13%, Pax ferments this Syrah with 100% whole clusters, something that was extremely common in the Northern Rhône decades ago, but is less so today. The resulting wine is lifted and elegant, with the same smoky, brooding character that only Syrah can produce. Specifically, the North Coast Syrah represents a blend of some of Pax’s best Syrah vineyards, including Griffin’s Lair and Castell Knight. It’s aged mostly in concrete, with a small portion of the cuvée seeing time in neutral French oak. It is proudly bottled, as listed on the label, without fining or filtration. Many Syrah lovers swear that there is no better bottle of the stuff to be had anywhere for under $50, and we’re inclined to agree. You can treat this as you might a great producer’s Saint Joseph–it can be drunk now for great pleasure, or held in the medium term.