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The wines of Qupé, Santa Maria Valley, California

Operating out of the same winery as Jim Clenenden's Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist's Qupé has quite a different focus. While Clenenden has concentrated on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Syrah is Lindquist's passion. Since Qupé's origins in the early 1980s, it has been at the forefront of the 'Rhône ranger' movement in the USA, and the Bien Nacido Syrah deservedly ranks among California's best. These wines certainly aren't cheap, but compared with the cost of even middle of the range Napa Cabernets, they represent solid value. I was impressed. They don't taste much like Rhône wines; instead, they are a uniquely Californian interpretation of these characterful grapes.

Bien Nacido Cuvée 1999, Santa Barbara County
An unusual blend of two-thirds Chardonnay, two-thirds Viognier. A pale colour, this has a lovely rich open nose with expressive floral notes. It's thick-textured and fruity on the palate, with a spicy richness underlying the fruit. An impressive but slightly odd white wine in a rich, ripe style. Very good/excellent (c. £14)

Syrah 1999, Central Coast
A bright purple colour, this has a lovely ripe nose of blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. The palate is rich and savoury, with a liquoricey, herby, pungent edge. It's a full, ripe style, emphasizing primary fruit, and it's very successful. Very good/excellent. (c. £12)

Syrah Bien Nacido Reserve 1998, Santa Barbara County
A vivid bright purple colour. The knockout, ripe nose has great complexity, with pungent herbal and liquorice notes and a roasted, toasty edge. The palate is concentrated and rich, showing bright, liquoricey fruit. Very good/excellent (c. £15)

Los Olivos Cuvée 1996, Santa Barbara County
A bend of Syrah (44%), Mourvèdre (44%) and Grenache (12%). An unusual herb and olive-laced nose leads to a lean, restrained, savoury palate with some herbal complexity and perhaps a touch of funk. It's leaner than the Syrahs, and reminds me more of France than California. Very good+ (c. £14)

Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate 1998, Santa Maria Valley
At the top of the range, this has a rich, toasty, smoky nose with some dense, liquoricey fruit. The palate is tight and concentrated with savoury, medicinal fruit, high acid and lots of oak. Quite a classy wine, and potentially excellent with some bottle development. Very good/excellent (c. £25)

UK agent: Morris & Verdin

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