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james laube's wine flights

Some Pinots Do Have Syrah

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 20, 2006 1:19pm ET

Lately, as Pinot Noir has become a hotter ticket, I’ve been asked if some vintners add a splash of Syrah to their Pinot cuvée.

The answer, according to a few winemakers I’ve talked with, is yes.

They say many of the lesser-priced Pinots—in the $15 and under category—do have a small amount of Syrah. It would add color, for sure, and body and backbone.

It’s well-known that historically, decades ago, Syrah, courtesy of Hermitage, found its way into red Burgundies.

This very subject came up the other day at a lunch with one of my collector friends.

He’s got an immaculate collection and is very generous in sharing his wines.

For lunch, he brought a delicious 1957 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, with classic earthy, ethereal forest floor and dried cherry flavors.

While the blemished label was almost beyond recognition, you could make out the words Romanée-Conti and, while the vintage date was also partially obscured, the cork read 1957.

We talked about how great the old DRCs are, how amazingly long they age and then reflected on our most recent experiences with newer vintages.

I usually get to taste the new DRCs, informally, and the past couple years have left me wondering if they’re in the same class as the older wines.

Both my friend and I have been less impressed by recent years and the question came up. Did the older DRCs benefit from a dash of Syrah? That would explain why the wines remained so hearty after all these years.

Curious if anyone else has thoughts on the older DRCs, as well as the newer versions.

Mr Stephen S Haskin
November 22, 2006 1:35pm ET


I was lucky enough to have found and purchased a 1971 La Tache when it was just off the boat in 1974 or 75. It stayed with me and has always been stored in a cool cellar, but moved a few times, until late this summer when my best friend celebrated his 50th birthday. I'd been eyeing the bottle for years and it finally seemed appropriate to open it for this celebration, even after many people told me I should sell it. NOT! I paid about $25 for it and saw it at auction for over $4000, but since my cellar is for drinking and not collecting, I thought opening it would be a wonderful thing to do for this seminal occasion. It was.

I've had Tache, and the other DRC red wines, maybe dozen times in the past and quite vividly remember my first time...about 30 years ago and every time I¿ve had any DRC wine after that first one. It was a¿66 La Tache that had a tapestry of flavors that were very complex and revealing of its terroir. It was pale, but packed with incredible flavors. It was like an intricate tapestry and since that first time, I've always compared tasting La Tache to an oriental rug with all its complexity of design.

This '71 was no exception. It poured as purely rose with a brownish tinge around the edge, as a great old burgundy should. Great burgundies, to me anyway, are pale, not dark. The flavor was again a revelation. The wine had multifaceted, marvelous tones of earth, feral forest and cherry flavors all perfectly placed and harmonious across the palate. The finish lasted over 2 minutes (I couldn't help but time it once) and kept changing as it evolved. Stunning.

To answer your question about the modern DRC wines: Burgundies, like most wines have undergone a transformation from wines that developed with age, to wines that are fruity and forward and ready to drink now. The wines of DRC are no exception to me. I¿ve had a few in the last decade and found them to be big, vibrant wines. So DRC seems to be "going with the crowd."
Tim Corliss
livermore,ca —  November 23, 2006 3:11am ET
hi jameswho are the california producers who are not producing the fruit forward "cocktail-style" pinot noirs that seem to dominate the landscape. I am having a hard time finding california producers who make their pinots for the long haul. If I am spending $50-$100 for a bottle, I am hoping it will not peak in 5 years. thanks so muchtim
Gerald Lasco
Houston, TX —  November 25, 2006 4:02am ET
I would like to add to this strain in two facets. First, I would like to enter into the debate regarding Syrah being found in Pinot Noir in California. I think it is a fairly well-accepted fact that this is certainly occuring in our more affordable Pinot today, and I also believe that James is right on the money when he suggests that many of the older Burgundy may have seen the same doctor. Considering the history of Alicante Bousche in Bordeaux, and knowing many a Frenchmen, I think it is safe to say that even Burgundy has made its exceptions.To answer Tim's question regarding California Pinot Noir that is made in a "non-cocktail" style, I recommend going no farther than the extraordinary Pinot being produced by John Kelly of Westwood Winery. The current release is 1999, which already puts Mr. Kelly several years ahead of the curve. The fact that his wines are exceptionally well-balanced, fully-realized, and completely heartfelt only makes the experience that much more satisfying. Also, I suggest you check out the wines being produced by Holdredge, Navillus Birney, Roessler, and Martinelli.I hope you have a great tasting experience!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 25, 2006 3:03pm ET
Tim, I'll get into the Pinot discussion next week, once everyone has a copy of the story.As I know you understand, this list was compiled of the wineries I think are currently on top of the game. Surely, they are not the only ones -- I could have included another dozen or more, including lots of wineries that are in their first or second vintage. The Pinot scene changing very quickly. As for wines to lay down, remember, too, that three key factors come into play. Your age, when you like your wines (younger vs. older) and cellar conditions. That said, I think the wines from Merry Edwards, Littorai, Marcassin and Mueller should age well, and I've had good luck with Williams Selyem. I recently wrote a blog about a 1999 Siduri Pinot that appeared to have another decade ahead of it (and it might be in better shape then than I am). I also like the prospects of Clos Pepe and Sea Smoke, having had older wines from Santa Rita Hills (the old Sanford Sanford & Benedict bottlings). Finally, just after I filed my story, I tasted the new 2004 Pinots from Saintsbury, which were the best I've had from this winery in a while. I also found the new Hanzell Pinot to be excellent and this vineyard does have a great track record for making ageworthy wines.

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