Narrow Gate is a small, family owned and operated boutique winery located just outside of Placerville in California’s Pleasant Valley in El Dorado County, run by husband-and-wife team Frank (the viticulturist and winemaker) and Teena Hildebrand (co-owner and winery chef). Not only are the duo hands-on winemakers, practice biodynamic farming, and love food and wine pairing (almost) as much as I do — but for these two, running a winery is a work of faith and passion. Teena and Frank both left a lucrative careers in the fashion industry to pursue, what they believe, is a much higher calling.

“It was our newfound faith in Christ that drove us to pursue His plan for our life instead of the world’s – that, in a nut shell, is the Narrow Gate: choosing God’s plan instead of the world’s.” –Teena Hildebrand

About the Wine: Rhône wines are the wines Teena and Frank like to drink and, thus the wines they like to make. “We have visited Cote Rotie twice,” says Frank, “and the most interesting wines have been the co-fermented blends that were in the range higher than 5% Viognier – not always easy to find.” So they made one themselves. The Narrow Gate 2013 Estate Syrah-Viognier Cote Rotie style Rhône blend, a co-ferment of 92% Syrah 8% Viognier.

The couple has 1.7 acres planted to Viognier and, Frank says, the top four rows situated atop an east-facing hillside ripens much quicker than the rest of the vineyard. Luckily, that early-ripening Viognier is ready for harvest at about the same time as the Syrah, the first grapes to ripen on the Narrow Gate Estate. And, so it is, that the Hildebrands can co-ferment their Viognier and Syrah in the classic Cote Rotie style. For this blend, Frank choses to use native yeast from the vineyard to encourage fermentation. “Fermentation temperatures are usually cooler with native ferments,” he explains, “So the duration is longer with greater extraction and allows a more complex set of aromatics.”

When asked how he came up with the perfect ratio of Viognier to Syrah, he does say that there was a lot of trial and error that went into that decision process: starting with a low 2-3%, the Syrah was still the dominant taste and texture, but once they bulked it up to a 6-8%, “The aromatics jumped out of the glass and viola!”

The wine was aged in neutral French. 14% ABV

Flavor Profile: Straight out of the bottle there’s an immediate aroma that can only be described as voluptuous: voluptuous black grapes, black cherries, wine. On the pour, the Narrow Gate Syrah-Viognier is a light dusty purple, settling into the glass as a royal purple with faded maroon edges and lightening to a soft pink at the outermost perimeter. You can’t not smell this wine once it’s in the glass — it’s bursting with raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, with a clear line of acidity through and through, keeping everything utterly alive. There are a few darker aromas that appear to be lingering in the background, namely cocoa powder. Swirl the wine and those darker aromas come forward just a bit more, revealing more of that chocolate, dessert-y herbs, some woodsy-ness, combining into a “brandy”-like scent.

On the palate, this Syrah-Viognier is dense but forward with over-ripe fruits coated in combination cacao and coffee grounds. The tannins come into play about mid-palate adding an almost fashionable style. There’s a bit of woody-ness found in the back of the palate, bringing to mind dusty bark. The finish is a grassy, savory one.

Note: Do not let this wine get too warm. Keep it between the standard 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. For us, on a warm evening, we kept the bottle in the cellar between pours. I say this because if the wine does become too warm, it takes on an even denser quality bordering on a “dessert-style” wine that, to me, is a bit unpleasant.

Food Pairing: I paired the Narrow Gate 2013 Syrah-Viognier with a seared salmon salad. Honestly, this wine could go with any number of dishes, but this simple pairing allowed me to enjoy all the nuances the wine had to offer. Also, we opened this bottle on our anniversary (hence the picture) and salmon salad is a meal we make that is just so traditionally “us.” So happy to include Narrow Gate in this tradition.

More Info: Learn more about the El Dorado County wine region.

I received the Narrow Gate 2013 Syrah-Viognier as a sample for review. (Thanks Frank and Teena!) Retail: $28 For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Narrow Gate website.

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