May 19, 2006
Winging it

Without missing a step, Adam LaZarre has moved gracefully from one stage to another, to judge by results coming out of the Los Angeles County Fair Wines of the World Competition, which wrapped up today in Pomona. Wine-writing buddy Andy Perdue, a judge at the event, reported in his blog a short time ago that the Cycles Gladiator 2004 Central Coast Syrah was named the competition's sweepstakes winner. I'd just tasted the wine, which while young seizes the varietal's distinctive mix of smoked meat, blueberries and pepper in a nicely balanced and vigorous package.

But as much as I like the wine, I'm equally pleased for this recognition for LaZarre, my winemaker of the year for 2004. At that time, he was making wines marketed under the brand HRM Rex Goliath, whose memorable label featured a purported 47-pound rooster who was a star attraction in the Texas Circus at the turn of the century. LaZarre helped build the HRM Rex Goliath label into a major success story, and after production exceeded 300,000 cases a year his employer, Hahn Estates of Soledad in Monterey County, sold the label to Constellation Brands.

But then Hahn Estates created an entirely new brand with similar aspirations, Cycles Gladiator, just now entering the market. LaZarre's new baby features label art even more fetching than the rooster - French painter G. Massias's 1895 art poster for the bicycle company Cycles Gladiator, showing a wild-haired nude trying to get a handle on a mythological winged bike. According to Hahn Estates, the image is meant to represent the "stylish grace, beauty, and unfettered freedom of our hillside vineyards." Those are some vineyards, and LaZarre is some winemaker.

Andy's report included a couple of other juicy tidbits. For one, at about 13.5 percent alcohol the Cycles Gladiator syrah is the first red wine under 14 percent alcohol to win the sweepstakes in several years, according to Dr. Bob Small, the competition's chairman. Secondly, in a preliminary round to pick the competition's best red wine the syrah edged by just one vote - 40-39 - a local wine, the Michael-David Winery 2004 Lodi Earthquake Petite Sirah.

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