Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sweet Spot for Syrah

Recently, I was treated to a night of older Syrah. After a month of tasting recent vintages, this was truly a special treat. For me, it is new ground as well. Our host, Greg dal Piaz of Snooth, explained that the sweet spot for Syrah was in the 10–15 year drinking window, with modern renditions peaking at this time and traditional bottles just hitting their pride. After this tasting, I completely agree, at least from the bottles presented. However, that’s not to say that the older bottles didn’t hold their ground.

What was even more interesting was how differently the two styles showed in terms of new world versus old yet how enjoyable they both were for their unique characteristics. The Old World Syrahs from the northern Rhone were smooth and savory with earthy, meaty and smoky notes that continued to evolve in the glass. The new world renditions were fleshier and more exotic, still earthy but with riper fruit that was not offensive in any way.

For my personal tastes, I’d take home the 1995 Delas Bessard Hermitage, but I must admit to being highly intrigued by the sweet intoxicating aromas of the 1994 Swanson Syrah from Napa Valley.

I seriously urge my readers to try more Syrah. No matter what style of wine you like, you can find a Syrah to fit your tastes, even if your tastes are aged wine. As you can see from my notes, most of these bottles were in beautiful form.

On to the wines:

1988 Edmunds St John Sonoma Syrah – The nose showed dried cherry, vegetal stems, old cinnamon stick, moss, and hints of old library book. It was ripe and mature at the same time. On the palate, it was soft and velvety with fading blackberry and prunes. The finish was staying and featured sweet blackberry fruit and citrus rinds. (90 points)

1988 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde – At first the Brune et Blonde was pungent with barnyard and earth, but as it sat in the glass, notes of warm blackberry tart with a whiff of raw smoked bacon and chalky minerals came forward. On the palate, it was clean and bright with sour blackberry fruit and savory meaty notes. Pepper and herbs dominated the finish and completed the experience. Beautiful. (92 points)

1994 Columbia Crest Reserve (15% Grenache) – On the nose, I found browned butter and black fruit with herbs, dark wood tones, a hint licorice and undergrowth. On the palate, it was rich yet fresh with dark fruits, savory saucy notes, and herbal tones. It was energetic and fun with lots of acidity and bacon notes on the finish. (91 points)

1994 Swanson Syrah Napa Valley – The nose was infectious to the point that it was hard to pull away from it. It showed sweet maraschino cherry with cinnamon, medicinal herbs and floral notes, yet as sweet and rich as it was, it had finesse and elegance. On the palate, I found black fruits and spice, which gained depth and followed across the palate like silk until the close where juicy acidity turned to sour juicy fruit that stayed through the finish. (93 points)

1995 Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards – The nose was deep, layered and constantly changing. It showed savory leather and beef jerky, and it then turned to noxious floral notes with chalky minerals and undergrowth. On the palate, it was balanced, juicy and savory with blackberry, pepper, and kale. The finish was clean and pure with great balanced acidity keeping it fresh. (94 points)

1995 Charles Melton Barossa Shiraz – The nose was big and rich, almost palatable, like a doughnut shop with vanilla, raspberry and candies. On the palate, it was mouth-filling and sticky with black fruits, sweet spices and a big sticky sweet finish. (85 points)

1996 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage – The nose showed sweet floral notes, black tea, stony minerals, earth, black pepper and a hint of parchment. On the palate, it was velvety and savory with excellent balance showing sour berries, black soil, bell pepper and leather. The finish was beautifully smooth and lasting. (93 points)

1996 Columbia Winery Syrah Red Willow Vineyard– The nose showed raw dough, vitamins, iron, and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was sweet and broad at first, yet it then turned to sour black fruits with lots of acidity. Sour turned juicy on the finish and left the palate refreshed. (88 points)

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