Before winemaker Dan Gehrs began to turn around this moribund operation, Zaca Mesa was hardly a name that inspired confidence. All that has changed with a series of increasingly delicious, richly fruity, intriguing, well-made wines. Among the Chardonnays, the 1993 and 1994 Zaca Vineyard Chardonnays are tasty, fruit-filled butterballs, with good purity and cleanliness, as well as plenty of mouthfiliing varietal character, Both wines should be drunk over the next year. The 1993 and 1994 Chapel Vineyard Chardonnays are more noticeably oaky, with a smoky, hazelnut, Meursault-like fatness and richness. The 1994 exhibits more depth and intensity than the good, but less exciting 1993. Again, both wines should be drunk during the next 12 months. Zaca Mesa also produces an Alumni Winermaker Series of wines, including a nearly outstanding 1993 Chardonnay from Santa Barbara. In this case, the alumni winemaker is Jim Clendenon. The wine exhibits plenty of toasty, vanillin-scented new oak, sweet, ripe, honeyed, buttery fruit, full body, and an ostentatious finish with gobs of fruit and wood. It is not the most delicate style of Chardonnay, but it does make an impression - a very good one. Other Alumni Series' wines I tasted included a 1993 Syrah, made by alumni winemaker Bob Lindquist, which I found earthy, high in acidity, and of average quality, and a tart, high acid 1993 Pinot Noir from the Sierra Madre Vineyard.

One of the breakthroughs for Zaca Mesa has been their work in the Rhone Ranger field. The 1993 Cuvee Z (a 49% Grenache/43% Mourvedre/8% Syrah blend from vineyards in Santa Barbara) reveals plenty of tasty, peppery, berry fruit, medium to full body, a soft, lush, opulent palate, and a fleshy, funky but delicious finish. Drink it over the next 3-4 years. Zaca Mesa's efforts with Syrah are even more impressive as they are blending in Viognier in an attempt, I suspect, to make a Guigal La Mouline-like wine (which is a blend of 10% Viognier/90% Syrah). However, La Mouline sells for $150-$250 a bottle, whereas Zaca Mesa's Syrah retails for $14-$16. The 1993 Syrah (95% Syrah/5% Viognier) is a marvelous wine, The dark ruby/purple color is followed by a knock-out nose of honeysuckle, apricots, and gobs of rich, sweet, black-raspberry and cassis fruit. The wine offers a creamy texture, full body, and a long, lusty finish. This wine is far too delectable to ignore, But there is even better news! The 1994 Syrah, blended with 10% Viognier, is significantly better! It will not be released until spring, 1996, but readers are advised to be on the look-out for it. Discounters will probably sell it for $12-$13 a bottle, making it unquestionably one of the richest, most hedonistic wines per penny spent that I have tasted and reviewed. The wine offers an opaque purple color, an exceptional nose of sweet berry fruit (jarnmy cassis, tropical fruits, and overripe peaches), a full-bodied, viscous, satiny smooth texture, and outstanding flavor extraction. This is a harmonious, gorgeously rich Syrah that may ultimately turn out to be Santa Barbara's answer to Cote Rotie. Don't dare miss it!

Robert Parker Jr. - The Wine Advocate

Zaca Mesa Vineyards / 6905 Foxen Canyon Road / Los Olivos, CA 93441 / 805-688-9339

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