Sine Qua Non Syrah


 Sine Qua Non Syrah

We get minuscule amounts of Sine Qua Non wines every once in a while – one or two bottles per every so often.  These high-scoring gems are impossible to find – the list to get on their waiting list is over ten years and counting, and a few hundred bottles make it to retail shelves per year, with retailers jacking up the prices by sometimes double their cost.  

Sine Qua Non (commonly abbreviated as SQN) is a California winery that is known for its wines made from blends of Rhône grape varietals, a tendency to avoid repetition and very limited production of wines that are difficult to obtain.  Each release is allocated and directly sold to a carefully managed mailing list of customers.  The winery is located in Ventura County and was founded in 1993 by Austrian Manfred Krankl, who emigrated to the USA in 1980.

The name of the winery, Sine Qua Non, is a Latin phrase that can be translated as “absolutely indispensable”. The wines themselves are given frequently changing names , and the bottles are unusually shaped with distinctive labels featuring Manfred Krankl’s own artwork. 

The Krankls began making their own wines in 1994 due to personal interest and with the added benefit of being able, if the wines were good enough, to sell them to the successful Mediterranean-themed Los Angeles restaurant Campanile, which Manfred co-founded and managed.

Beginning with several self described “project wines” made in partnership with John Alban and other vintners, initial production was approximately 100 cases. After several experiments with white varietals, Rhone red varietals, and even Pinot noir, the Krankls found their sweet spot in 1994 with a predominantly Syrah-based blend they named Queen of Spades that earned a 95-point rating from Robert Parker. Today, this wine retails at an average price of $5,861 per bottle.

Manfred was also a co-founder of La Brea Bakery. Sale of a portion of his ownership position in LaBrea enabled him to focus on wine-making full-time, at which point total production, diversity of releases, and competency with the full spectrum of Rhone (and other) varietals steadily increased. Sourcing fruit from a wide variety of growers from year to year, and increasingly from their own vineyards has caused the winery to never make exactly the same wine twice, about which Krankl has said, “People buy Sine Qua Non. They don’t seem to give a toot where it’s from”. However, beginning with 2020, 100% of the grapes will come from from SQN-owned vineyards.

A tradition at Sine Qua Non has been that each wine has a distinct name, label, and often bottle style. Each label is designed by Manfred, often with linocut artwork of his own creation. However, in 2021 SQN announced that due to the difficulty of registering new names, which has sometimes required renaming a wine before release, in the future there will no longer be unique names for each bottling.

Sine Qua Non’s Syrahs were among the first American Syrahs to create significant interest and trading volume in the global wine auction market. From the second quarter of 1999 to early 2008, the value of SQN wines at auctions appreciated by 163% in contrast to the 128% appreciation rate during the same period of other collectible wines listed on the Wine Spectator Auction Index. In 2015, three half bottles of the 2002 Sine Qua Non E° (a rosé, which is not typically a wine type that attracts high prices at auction), sold for a total of $4,200. 

In other words kids, these wines are the real deal.

2017 – Hated Hunter
100 points, Jeb Dunnuck   Named after Manfred’s grandfather, the 2017 Syrah The Hated Hunter is 82.4% Syrah, 7.8% Petite Sirah, 5.2% Mourvèdre, 2% Grenache, and the rest a mix of white varieties that spent just over 23 months in 59% new French oak. A classic 2017, it has an incredible nose of spice red and black fruits, ground pepper, dried flowers, and sandalwood. With full-bodied richness, no hard edges, gorgeous purity of fruit, and a finish that won’t quit, it has everything you could want from a bottle of wine. This cuvée comes from a mix of the The Twin, Eleven Confession, Cumulus, and Molly Aida vineyards, and was bottled in August of 2019, with 1821 cases produced.

98+ Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate:  The 2017 Syrah The Hated Hunter (first tasted last year as a barrel sample and before it had been named) is composed of 82.4% Syrah, 5.2% Mourvèdre, 7.8% Petite Sirah, 2% Grenache, 1.2% Petit Manseng and 1.4% Viognier that was fermented with 26% whole cluster. The vineyard sources are 32% Eleven Confessions, 41% The Third Twin, 25% Cumulus and 2% Molly Aida. It was aged for around 23 months in French oak, 59% new. Deep garnet-black, the nose slowly unfurls to offer a vast array of savory, earthy, meaty notes—peppered salami, black olives, charcoal, wild sage and cast-iron pan—over a core of plum preserves, Morello cherries and boysenberries with wafts of menthol, tobacco leaf, Chinese five spice and aniseed. Rating: 98+


2016 –  Ratsel   

100 points, Jeb Dunnuck:  The 2016 Syrah Rastel 16 showed incredibly from barrel and it certainly doesn’t disappoint from bottle. Pure perfection in Syrah, this beauty boasts a deep purple hue as well as a stacked bouquet of ripe blackberries, cured meats, scorched earth, white pepper, white chocolate, and bacon fat. Deep, full-bodied, and massively concentrated, it builds incrementally on the palate, with ultra-fine tannins, perfect balance, and a finish that won’t quit. I struggle to think of another wine that delivers this level of intensity without any sensation of weight or heaviness. The 2016s, in general, are relatively approachable, but nevertheless, do your best to hide bottles for 3-4 years.

99 points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
Made exclusively from estate-grown fruit, the 2016 Syrah Ratsel 16 is composed of 81% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, 5% Petite Sirah, 2.5% Grenache and 4.5% Viognier that was fermented with 47% whole cluster. The vineyard sources are 47% Eleven Confessions, 38% The Third Twin, 13% Cumulus and 2% Molly Aida. It was aged for around 23 months in French oak, 47% new.


2015 – Trouver l’Arene    

100 points  Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate:  Composed of 80.5% Syrah, 7% Petite Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, 2% Grenache and 3.5% Viognier, all sourced from estate vineyards—37% The Third Twin, 36% Eleven Confessions and 27% Cumulus—the 2015 Syrah Trouver L’Arene was made using 34% whole cluster and has a deep purple-black color with intense cassis, black plums and black cherries scents plus hints of anise, violets, sage and tar, with wafts of savory/smoked meat suggestions. Full-bodied, this voluptuous beauty is seriously singing in the mouth, belting out vibrant red and black fruit flavor layers, all framed by very fine, rounded, ripe tannins and a wonderful freshness, finishing with persistent perfumed fruit and a spring in its step. 1,778 cases and 600 magnums were produced. 
100 points, Jeb Dunnuck  The otherworldly 2015 Syrah Trouver l’Arene is made from 80% Syrah, 7% each of Petite Sirah and Mourvèdre, and the balance Viognier and Grenache. As with the Grenache in 2015, it saw some whole clusters in the fermentation and spent 22 months in close to equal parts new and used French oak. Opaque purple-colored and loaded with sensational notes of smoked black fruits, peppery herbs, liquid flowers, exotic spice, and lavender, this insane beauty hits the palate with awesome density and depth, yet stays amazingly light and graceful, with no apparent weight or heaviness. It possesses sweet tannin, incredible purity of fruit, and a finish that goes on for nearly a minute. It’s an incredible effort that reminds me of a great vintage of Guigal’s Côte Rôtie La Mouline (the 2010? It’s not too dissimilar to the 2003 early in its life) with its exotic, floral, gamey character. There have been so many monumental Syrahs from this address it’s difficult to say where this beauty will ultimately end up when it’s at maturity, but my money is on it being in the top handful of Syrahs ever made by Manfred.

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