Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tasting Report: New World Syrah and Blends

Syrah has always been one of my favorite grapes. It can stand on its own in a 100% wine, but it makes a great addition to blends of grenache and mourvedre as well (a la Chateauneuf-du-Pape). In conjunction with my friends at the daily wine blog Terroirist, I recently blind tasted my way through some New World syrahs and red blends that contain at least some syrah. While most of them hail from California, there are two Aussies and a Washington State syrah thrown into the mix as well.

All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind.

2010 Peter Lehmann Layers - Australia, South Australia, Barossa
SRP: $17. Took some significant swirling to get the aromas going, then out came blackberry, roasted coffee and charcoal. Medium tannins, medium-to-low acid on the palate. The black cherry fruit tastes a bit baked and the roasted coffee and toasted oak overwhelm any nuanced flavors. A bit of pepper carries onto the finish, which is quite short. Overall, a mediocre attempt. I don't understand the Wine Spectator's 90 point score. A blend of 54% shiraz, 19% tempranillo, 17% mourvedre and 10% grenache. (78 points)

2010 Pyren Shiraz Broken Quartz - Australia, Victoria, Pyrenees
SRP: Unknown. Aromatically, this is dark and brooding, with fig, prune juice and boysenberry. Medium tannins, evident alcohol and a whole lot of toast on the palate. There’s a tangy, sour cherry aspect to the darker, more extracted fruit. Despite the alcohol and the toast, the midpalate lacks depth and secondary flavors. Juicy cherries and oak stave flavors linger on the finish. (81 points)

2011 Cline Cellars Cashmere - USA, California
SRP: $17. Very bright and sweet on the nose, dominated by fresh berry fruit, a whole lot of rose petals and a hint of sage. Clearly new world sweet red fruit, but the other aspects make the nose interesting. Palate: really silky tannins, medium acid and the fruit is plush. The mixed berry fruit is really delicious and fresh, and it finishes with a soft note of toasted oak. It seems like more of a drink-me-now wine than the others, a real crowd-pleaser, but a well-made wine. A blend of mourvèdre, grenache and syrah. (86 points)

2010 Hooker Wines Syrah Home Pitch Betsy's Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley
SRP: $24. In addition to sweet raspberry and red plum fruit, this wine shows serious Old World aromas like peppered steak, loam and graphite. Very interesting nose right out of the bottle, but more black olive came out over the course of fifteen minutes or so. Full-bodied with grippy tannins and medium acid. The raspberry and red plum fruit tastes sweet, but not too much because it’s combined with savory mushroom and black olive flavors. Hints of oak shine through but in a restrained fashion. Long and plush on the finish. Everything’s in the right place with this wine. I’d like to see how this syrah shows three years from now. (90 points)

Saxon Brown's syrahs show rich California fruit
backed up by firm tannins and lots of earthy flavors.
2007 Saxon-Brown Syrah Camp Block Parmelee-Hill - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $34. Tight aromas, but with time more and more brown sugar came out, also some brandied plums, chocolate, toast, hints of grilled meat. On the palate: fine-grained tannins and dense fruit come together in this inky wine, luckily there’s enough acid to keep it fresh. The cool blueberry and raspberry fruit combine with a hint of pepper, notes of toast and dark chocolate and charcoal. The finish is long and crisp, and I even get a hint of mineral, almost a limestone flavor. This is a really focused wine that seems like it would benefit from a few years in the cellar, but it’s putting on one hell of a fight tonight. (91 points)

2007 Saxon-Brown Syrah Flora Ranch - USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $34. Aromas of roasted coffee, blackberry jam, loam and tilled soil. This wine really coats the palate with dry tannins and dense, almost glycerin-like blackberry fruit. A little low on the acid perhaps. Dark chocolate, sweet barbeque sauce and chocolate last long on the finish. This is a really dark syrah and it could probably use a long decant (both for aeration and because this bottle threw some significant sediment). Another year or two in the cellar will likely do a lot for this budding syrah. (90 points)

2009 Curtis Syrah Crossroads Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $32. Aromas of plum, cocoa, blackberries, a hint of green olive. Dusty tannins and a nice dose of acid on the palate, with sour cherry, red plums, chocolate and nuanced oak. Rich, but not jammy, with a nice kick of pepper and a meat on the finish. (87 points)

2009 Curtis Syrah - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25. Complex, fruit-forward aromas of figs, raspberries and even a hint of passion fruit. Full and grippy on the palate with refreshing acid and gritty, young tannins. The wild raspberry and fig paste flavors mix well with the earth and cedar notes. This seems quite solid, well-structured and deserving of some time to evolve. (88 points)
This red blend from Curtis drinks
incredibly well for its $14 price tag.
2009 Curtis Heritage Cuvée - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $14. Bright raspberry and plums on the nose, and the lavender and incense notes make this a joy to sniff. A burst of crushed raspberry and red cherry fruit kicks off the palate, followed up with fine tannins and noticeable acid. Solid depth and intensity of flavors. Notes of coffee and loam are accented by a touch of creamy oak. A flavor that reminds me of an herb-crusted steak carries the finish, and it’s just lovely. Very juicy, yet well-structured. A blend of 39% grenache, 26% mourvedre, 19% cinsault and 16% syrah. (88 points)

2010 JL Giguiere Matchbook Dunnigan Hills - USA, California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $16. Very bright on the nose, with maraschino cherries, candied plums and sweet red flowers. Jammy and spicy on the palate, with a good amount of acid. Flavors of sour cherry, cola and peppery spice dominate. I like the crisp, oak-minimal approach to this wine. A blend of 90% syrah and 10% cabernet sauvignon. (87 points)

2009 Long Shadows Wineries Syrah Sequel - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
SRP: $46. This syrah smells like the freshest red plums, but there’s also this nice blackberry and coffee and a bit of roasted meat. On the palate, these tannins don’t mess around. But the balance between tannins and acid is so spot on that it’s altogether accessible, even fresh. Juicy red and blue fruits, with hints of baker’s chocolate and violets, there’s also a nice herbal kick and some smoke flavor. Roasted and earthy on the finish, which lingers for a very long time. Yes, this is delicious, and I bet it will be even better in two years. (91 points)

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