Donelan Family Wines Earns Rave Reviews for 10 Syrah and Pax Wines

Share Article

Robert Parker calls 2009 vintages “exceptionally elegant” and says 2007 Donelan Richards Family Vineyard is “flirting with perfection”.

Donelan Family Wines

The 2008 and 2009 vintages represent the best wines we have ever produced. Period. With each vintage, we have learned more about our specific vineyards, the interaction of weather and vine, experimenting with harvest timing, and careful fruit selection.

Donelan Family Wines, one of Northern California's premier boutique wine producers, recently received their second consecutive set of overwhelmingly positive reviews and scores from well-known wine critic Robert Parker. The scores were applied to Donelan wines from the 2009 and 2008 vintages, as well as two wines from 2007. All were all produced under the supervision of Donelan winemaker Tyler Thomas.

Donelan Family Wines produces Syrah and other Rhône varietals harvested from unique vineyards within Sonoma County, California. Proprietor Joe Donelan and wine maker Tyler Thomas use discipline, patience and understanding the terroir of these extraordinary vineyards to produce Syrah and other Rhône varietals under the Donelan brand.

“These reviews are a testament to our hard work and patience in the vineyard and the cellar,” said Joe Donelan, owner of Donelan Family Wines. “The 2008 and 2009 vintages represent the best wines we have ever produced. Period. With each vintage, we have learned more about our specific vineyards, the interaction of weather and vine, experimenting with harvest timing, and careful fruit selection. The results have been critically acclaimed by many as wines of incredible balance, structure and complexity – Rhone inspired but driven by the cool Sonoma climate and terroir.”

Here are the scores from the Wine Advocate and highlights from Robert Parker’s reviews of Donelan and Pax wines:

2009 Donelan Obsidian (100% Syrah, 40% stems) - 94-96

From a high elevation (1,200 feet) vineyard, it boasts an opaque, ruby/purple color in addition to notes of bacon fat, crushed rocks, blackberries and spring flowers. Still somewhat understated, it offers numerous layers and nuances on the palate, good freshness (a hallmark of all Tyler Thomas’s wines), and a long distance style. Cellar it for 2-5 years after its release and enjoy it over the following 15+.

2009 Donelan Walker Vine Hill (100% Syrah, 35% stems) - 92-94

The 2009 Syrah Walker Vine Hill is a more austere and structured, but less exuberant offering than previous examples. A dense ruby/purple color is followed by copious aromas of blueberries, black cherries, cassis and camphor as well as the tell-tale meaty notes that are usually a part of the Donelan wines. While there is lots of texture, this Syrah is rightly knit with serious tannin levels in the finish.

2009 Donelan Kobler Syrah (90% Syrah, 10% Viognier, 70% stems) - 92-94

An exotic perfume of lychee nuts, white peaches, black cherries, black currants and subtle oak emerges from the glass of this delicate, medium-bodied, concentrated red wine. It possesses terrific fruit as well as an elegance and freshness that are French-like. Enjoy it over the next decade.

2009 Donelan Curvee Christine (40% whole clusters) - 91-93

Another French-styled offering, it reminds me of a high-class St.-Joseph. Attractive notes of black currants, bacon fat, Provencal herbs, licorice and smoke are found in this elegant, fleshy, rich wine. With good acidity, sweet tannin and burgeoning complexity, it should drink well for a decade or more.

2009 Donelan Venus (90% Roussanne, 10% Viognier) - 91-93

The 2009 Venus exhibits crisp, fresh, delicate but impressively intense notes of lychee nuts, caramelized citrus, spring flowers, fresh pears and honeysuckle. Medium-bodied with lively acidity as well as an exotic perfume and a dry, zesty style, I would recommend drinking it on the early side because of its exceptional aromatics. It should last 2-3 years.

2009 Donelan Cuvee Moriah (72% Grenache with 16% stems, 20% Syrah with 35% stems and 8% Mourvedre) – 89-91

Donelan’s answer to Chateauneuf du Pape is the 2009 Cuvee Moriah. This wine reveals zesty acidity as well as an unmistakable kirsch liqueur style. It reminded me of a lighter vintage of Chateau Rayas, which is a lighter-styled Chateauneuf du Pape even in a powerful vintage. The light ruby-hued Cuvee Moriah offers up intense notes of sweet black cherries intertwined with herbal nuances. As the wine sits in the glass, tell-tale notes of raspberries (which I often associate with Rayas) also emerge. If tasted blind, this different, intriguing effort would undoubtedly be thought to be a French southern Rhone rather than a Sonoma County product. It should age effortlessly for 6-8 years.

2008 Donelan Cuvee Keltic (100% Syrah, 75% whole clusters) – 94-96

The 2008 Syrah Cuvee Keltic reveals Hermitage-like characteristics of ground pepper, roasted meats, damp earth, Christmas fruitcake, blackberries and incense. Rich and full-bodied with loads of tannin and a backward, brooding personality, this sensational wine is meant for true connoisseurs who are willing to give it some time in the cellar. It should evolve for 15 or more years.

2008 Donelan Kobler Syrah (8% co-fermented Viognier, 100% whole clusters) - 93

The 2008 Syrah Kobler Vineyard exhibits exotic, floral, Cote Rotie-like aromas with more raspberry and black cherry characteristics intermixed with the Viognier’s spring flower garden scents. Medium to full-bodied, savory and fleshy with considerable complexity, this delicious 2008 should drink well for a decade or more.

2007 Donelan Richards Family Vineyard (100% Syrah, 100% whole clusters) – 97-100

Flirting with perfection, the 2007 Syrah Richard’s Vineyard is a staggering effort. This Cote Rotie-like displays remarkable floral/lavender characteristics along with a dense purple color and an awesome bouquet of spring flowers, blueberries, blackberries and white chocolate. It hits the palate with a crescendo of intense, ripe, concentrated black fruits interwoven with barrique, charcoal and burning ember-like flavors. With staggering quality and full body as well as modest alcohol (14.2%) for a wine of such great ripeness, this riveting 2007 Syrah should provide immense pleasure over the next 15+ years. Don’t miss it!

2007 Pax Kobler Syrah - 93

The 2007 Syrah Kobler Vineyard is still under the old Pax Cellars label. It continues the exotic, floral, Cote Rotie look-alike style. Sweet tannins as well as lots of floral notes intermixed with black raspberry and black cherry fruit are present in this medium-bodied, delicious, complex effort. Like the other vintages, it represents a singular Syrah.

About Donelan Family Wines
Founded by Joe Donelan, Donelan Family Wines is located in Santa Rosa, California. Donelan Family Wines sources fruit from unique, cool climate sites within Sonoma County, California. The family owned California winery focuses on producing critically acclaimed, well-balanced, terroir driven wines from Syrah and Rhône varietals. To learn where and how Donelan Family Wines produces its passion, visit


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

David Andrew Goldman

(646) 335-0268
Email >
Visit website