Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tasting Notes: Syrah

Brad Post:

I’ll be the first person to admit I lack sophistication when it comes to wine appreciation. Nine weeks ago when I began my wine sensory analysis odyssey, part of my enology certificate from Des Moines Area Community College; I was better able to detect a wine flaw (e.g., volatile acidity, cork taint, acetaldehyde and other nasties) than to describe the renowned “cat pee” odor in a Sauvignon Blanc. Since then, guided via online lectures and through experiential learning, my wine appreciation lexicon and abilities to detect aromas/flavor and describe them have improved significantly.

In contrast to my brother’s write-ups, whose tasting notes originate from years of experience as a restaurant wine director, his informative and often poetic prose bridge the gustatory gap between good wine and real-world food-pairings. My wine training evolved from making wine to learning about appreciation under the tutelage of a professional winemaker, sensory analysis instructor (first level sommelier), and wine competition organizer and judge. So, it would be fair to say my training leans more toward the scientific (a step-by-step evaluation procedure) but, in the process, I also hope to infuse a bit of “brad” in the writings as to keep them less academic.

Nearly 30 wines later, we are introduced to three new red wines, one from California, another from Washington, and the final from Colorado – each wine is 100% Syrah. Whether you’re from Australia and call it “Shiraz” or from the southern part of France and simply know it as a “Rhone” valley wine (i.e., Côtes du Rhône) we are talking about the same grape! Big and bold, Syrah, is typically a heavily extracted and powerful red wine. Here are my notes from the Syrah tasting, in the order sampled:

1. Cline (2007) Sonoma County, Syrah (CA). (Alc. 13.5%, Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$10).
Deeply intense purple wine whose initial blackberry and cherry fruit essence was pleasant to smell. Bright and lively almost to the point of puckering, this tart blackberry imbued wine brought with it light astringency, moderate tannins, and just the right amount of oak. Tart. The up-front acidity and lively fruit gave way to a bit of heat mid-palate and post swallow. More watery than I expected. Moderately long and fruity finish but tends to smell better than it tastes. Good.

2. Snoqualmie (2003) Columbia Valley, Syrah (WA). (Alc. 13.5%, Source: HyVee, Cost: ~$9).
This slightly browning Syrah suggested her advancing age immediately. Right away I noted there is “a lot going on” in this glass! First off, notes of buttery goodness and some caramel, toasted nuts, earthy loam, and do I get “barnyard?” – not sure, but something farmish; cooked dark fruit and jam, and finally just a trace of chocolate. Wow! My mouth was happy to accept the full, creamy, rich, whole milk-like coating first with black cherries, and then smooth lightly burned toast, some oak and a wonderfully pleasant smoky finish. BIG! SMOOTH! SEDUCTIVE! Cherries persist on the palate for a long, long time. Buy it now and drink it today or yesterday – time is running out for this hidden, bottom shelf wine. Surprised.

3. Canyon Wind (2006) Grand Valley, Syrah (CO). (Alc. 13.6%, Sources: Winery, Cost: ~$18).
Initial scents of something akin to “pee” gave way to dusty, musty, rich earth and spicy pepper qualities and oak smoke. No fruit but very fascinating. The flavor profile of this wine had me scribbling like mad: “Rich, tart, cherry, blackberry, spice, black pepper.” HOLY COW! “light astringency, moderate tannins, lingering spiciness, persistent cherry.” RICH. THICK. First impressions are wrong – this wine is delicious. Seriously COMPLEX. Such a great, long lasting finish laced with cherries and black pepper (and smoke) kept me wanting more and imagining ways I could steal away with the contents! Look out California – Colorado is in the house!!!

Post Tasting Notes: What a great tasting! Our favorites were the Canyon Wind (3 picked) and the Snoqualmie (1 picked). Upon the reveal we were surprised to find the Cline at the bottom of our favorite list; and thrilled to see Colorado at the top followed closely by the Washington wine! Cheers to Colorado whose wines are really gaining traction. The full-bodied style crafted by the two favorites seem to be indicative of the traditional Rhone style, big and bold! Take home message: Watch out for Colorado wines (buy some too) and get your hands on the quickly fading, yet wonderful, Snoqualmie Syrah. Cheers!

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