Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wining about Shai Cellars...

Shai surrounded by his wines
The Goddess of Wine and a friend were talking about Shawn Shai Halahmy the other day, and she asked, "Have you written an article about Shawn?" I thought for a moment, and then realized that even though I talk about and write about Shawn and his wonderful wines, it's mainly in the context of hanging out with friends, and no, I have not written an actual article about him. So here we are!

JD and I met Shawn through Ian Blackburn and LearnAboutWine. During the period when we were working with Ian and his team on a regular basis, we were present at many classes and events, and this inquisitive guy was there, asking lots of questions about making wine. We actually found him kind of annoying (!) because he was quite persistent and wanted specific answers to his questions. Things changed when we - kind of by accident - adopted him into our rapidly-expanding group of Wineaux during a wonderful event, the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux in January 2010. Suddenly, we couldn't get enough of him!

Shawn was born in Israel, but his family moved to the US when he was 10. By the late 70's, most of the US family had moved west to Los Angeles. He discovered wine as a young adult, and was fascinated by the magic of the transformation of grape to wine. Shawn fell in love with the Santa Ynez Valley, and became a frequent visitor to the local wine scene, realizing that Rhone-style wines were his favorites. Working harvest alongside great local winemakers, he was hooked!

Shawn decided he was going to make wine in 2008, purchasing barrels and waiting for harvest. Employing his friend, consultant Mikael Sigouin, he dove head-first into winemaking.

Shai at dinner
The 2008 Adome (meaning Red) was his 1st vintage. A blend of 65% Syrah (Tierra Alta Vineyard) & 35% Cabernet Sauvignon (Losson Vineyard), it was clear from the start that it was going to be a great wine. Only 230 cases were produced. Aged for 18 months in 100% French oak (40% new), the wine had great balance, wonderful texture and mouth feel. JD and I were privileged to be among the group of friends who tasted this wine from barrel to bottle, and then were amazed at the way it grew and changed over the next few years. It's a library wine now - if there's any left.

Shawn's second vintage, 2009, proved to be even better than 2008. The 2009 Adome, using a similar formula as 2009 - 65% Syrah (Tierra Alta Vineyard) & 35% Cabernet Sauvignon (Jack McGinley Vineyard) and aged for 18 months in 100% French oak (55% new), exhibits solid aromas of cassis, smoked meats, leather, licorice, and cedar, with a silky, polished texture, good concentration, and a classically dry, chewy finish. Our group of Wineaux refers to this wine as "crack." It's that good. We can't get enough. Shawn made only 225 cases of this wine, and was rewarded with a 92 point rating from Wine Spectator.

Shawn also bottled a 2009 Grenache (actually a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah) that's aged for 18 months in 100% French oak, is incredibly savory and meaty, showing copious amounts of dried cherries and kirsch, smoked leather, dried beef, and ground pepper on the nose. This leads to a medium-bodied wine that has a supple, light texture, notable balance, and a long finish. I have to admit, when he first bottled it, I wasn't crazy about it, but it has matured and mellowed in the bottle, and is truly one of my go-to wines at the moment. There were only 100 cases made.

Shawn's getting ready to release his 2010 Adome and 2010 Syrah in January 2014. The 2010 Adome is a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache, and it is wonderful. I can't wait to pour it at the annual STARS of Santa Barbara event on January 23rd!

In case you were wondering, Shai is Hebrew for "gift." JD and I consider both Shawn's friendship and his wines gifts in our lives. Cheers!

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