I said it for the 2018 and today’s 2019 release is no different: Out of the innumerable Syrahs I’ve had throughout my career, there are none in this price range that compete with the perfume, purity, and flat-out typicity of Bien Nacido’s “Well Born Cuvée.” You’d think such a significant discovery would come as a shock to us, but it all makes sense once the label is revealed: This is Bien Nacido Estate, a humble California operation that has rapidly become my label of choice when seeking out Syrahs that compete with the French titans of Northern Rhône.
Why is it so exciting? It’s a near carbon copy of their elite $60 Syrah bottling at half the price. Coming from the exact same parcel and sustainably farmed with the same painstaking detail, the only major difference is that it’s built for earlier consumption, as evidenced by the 100% neutral French oak and truncated aging period. Still, nothing is lost in the way of expression: This 2019 is perfumed to the highest degree, all while delivering soul-stirringly pure and ultra-classic Syrah notes like cracked wild blackberry, black cherry, pepper, savory herbs, tapenade, and leather. For two years running now, it’s been the finest $30-and-under Syrah experience I can recall, from any region.
Bien Nacido Estate is named for what is arguably the most famous vineyard in the United States: First planted by the Miller family in 1973, this legendary site has been branded a “Top Grand Cru Vineyard,” “Vineyard of the Year,” and “Top 25 Vineyard of the World.” Accordingly, dozens of California’s top producers have jockeyed to slap “Bien Nacido” on their labels and the reasons why are detailed below.
In the mid-1850s, the Ontiveros family was granted a deed to a parcel originally called Rancho Tepusquet, near Santa Barbara in California. This was a land grant offered by the then-Governor of Mexico as a homestead for his daughter and new son-in-law to create a future and family. From the first days of their time at Rancho Tepusquet, the Ontiveros family had raised cows, horses, and other livestock next to a small tributary of the Santa Maria River. With a crystalline water source and nearly 2,000 acres of pasture land, the family started building their home. Then came Bob and Steve Miller, members of their own fourth-generation farming family, both of whom found this pristine property in 1969 when they were offered two contiguous parcels of land that were part of the original Rancho Tepusquet. With the chance to continue a tradition of farming sustainably and focusing on the highest quality, the two original parcels were reunited and rechristened “Bien Nacido.” Directly (and appropriately) translated as “well-born,” Bien Nacido is about as purebred as vineyards come.
Bien Nacido proudly claims to be the United States’ most influential single-vineyard source, with more than 160 producers over 44 years having used “Bien Nacido” on their labels. Only top vineyards in Burgundy have been designated more, and I am certain that has something to do with their 700-year history. Having been inspired by this, Steve Miller’s youngest son, Nicholas (now the fifth generation) decided to make some of their own small-production wines starting in the late 2000s. This 2019 “Well Born Cuvée” hails entirely from Bien Nacido’s “Z Block”—the exact same parcel used for their $60 Estate Syrah. After a nighttime harvest, the plump berries were transferred to Bien Nacido Estate’s onsite winery where fermentation (60% whole cluster) occurred via ambient yeasts. As this is meant to be an earlier-drinking version, 100% neutral French oak puncheons (600 liters) were used, and maturation lasted just nine months. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
From Master Sommelier and Bien Nacido Brand Ambassador himself: “The biggest takeaways, are that this is not a different parcel, not different fruit, not different winemakers. It is what we believe to be a look at the wines from a fresher standpoint. They carry all the charm, elegance, and precision of their Estate counterparts in a ready-to-drink package.” Our team first tasted today’s 2019 right after it was bottled so it had some nervous energy and reduction to shed. But, after 60 minutes of air, it opened right up and began effusing sublime, highly aromatic notes of juicy brambleberries, black cherry liqueur, dried plum, cracked black and green peppercorns, crushed stone, smoked meat, olive, clove, and a hint of leather. The palate is medium-bodied and framed with supple layers of freshly picked forest berries, savory herbs, and hints of exotic spice that are all enhanced by refreshing acidity. It’s to be enjoyed over an evening or two in Bordeaux stems around 60 degrees, although I highly recommend buying several for enjoyment over the next 2-5 years. Cheers!
– Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier & Founder of SommSelect