Saxum 2016 Heart Stone Vineyard (95+pts)
95-97 Wine Advocate
Scheduled for bottling in June, the 2016 Heart Stone Vineyard offers up a pretty bouquet of dried flowers and wild berries, framed by incipient savory bass notes. On the palate, it's full-bodied, fine-grained and elegant, with bright, crunchy fruit flavors, excellent concentration and a long, perfumed finish. This is the only wine in the Saxum cellar that comes from the Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles. The 2016 is a blend of 51% Grenache, 27% Syrah, 13% Mataro, 6% Petite Sirah and 3% Touriga Nacional. It's being matured in 37% new puncheons, 53% large amphorae and the balance in used wood.
Success sometimes breeds complacency, but that's emphatically not the case for Justin Smith, whose status as Paso Roble's most celebrated winemaker has done nothing to dim his urge to experiment, evolve and improve. Without sacrificing any of their power and authority, both of which come easily in this warm climate, Smith's Saxum wines continue to gain in structural refinement, energy, integration and incipient complexity with every passing vintage. Since the end of the last decade, Smith has been experimenting with whole cluster, a technique he tends to employ in cooler sites and vintages, since extracting excessive stem tannins is a danger in riper, warmer years. Fermentations are cooler and slower, which helps to manage extraction. While new oak was once an important influence in the Saxum wines, its presence is more and more subtle: Smith now works with puncheons instead of smaller barrels, and they're complemented by amphorae and foudres. Since 2010, he has employed Roussanne for co-fermentations with Syrah in the place of Viognier, since it brings less additional power and alcohol. He also continues to refine and adapt his blends from year to year. Smith's new cellar now means he has the space necessary to mature wines for longer. Today's Saxum wines are accordingly better than ever. The only problem is finding them: I signed up for the mailing list in 2011, and Smith informs me that the current wait is around eight years.
At Saxum, Smith characterizes the 2016 vintage as "easygoing and plentiful" after the challenges of the three preceding years of drought. The season's heat spikes weren't too serious, and fermentations went well. He employed less whole cluster than in 2015 but did very little crushing, emphasizing whole-berry fermentations. Having tasted most of these wines from barrel last summer, I was more than impressed by their positive evolution when I revisted them this April.