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james suckling uncorked

Syrah Splendor


Posted: Apr 23, 2008 10:57am ET

I wonder if Cortona will one day become the Côte-Rôtie of Italy? Will it become one of the best places on earth to grow Syrah?

It already has a head start. And it’s made some excellent Syrahs already.

One of the best Italian Syrahs I ever tasted (drunk too!) was the Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Syrah Toscana Podere Il Bosco 1997. I first tasted it in 1999, and I fell in love with its rich, fruity, spicy character and firm and powerful tannin structure. It was hard to believe that it came from vines that were only about four or five year old. But the wine reminded me of some of the great Syrahs from the Northern Rhône.

I actually had the wine again last week during lunch at the winery, and it was showing beautifully. Here is my tasting note:

Tight and powerful with blackberry, hints of minerals and black pepper on both the nose and palate. Full and long, with fine tannins. Just mellowing at this stage in its life. 96 points, non-blind (of course, it was lunch!)

It was the same as when I tasted it for my 1997 Tuscan retrospective report last year.

Renzo Cotarella, the technical director for Antinori, was also there, and brought some of the Syrahs that he's making at La Braccesca, their estate in Cortona, under the Bramasole label. His wines were a little lighter and rounder than the d’Alessandro, but stylish and very Syrah-like. I liked the 2005 Bramasole better than the 2004, and I thought the latter was outstanding when I tasted it last year.

Renzo had an interesting view on Cortona and Syrah that I want to share. “We make Syrah in many places: Puglia, Bolgheri, Chile, Washington, and Napa,” he said during lunch. “But the balance of fruit and flesh is fantastic in Cortona. In three or four years you’ll see it even more. It is a different music here.”

Check out my video so you can see the vineyards of d’Alessandro, with Cortona in the background, against the hills. There’s also about a minute’s worth of interview with owner Massimo d’Alessandro, who, besides being a vintner, is a hipster architect in Rome.





Massimo is currently working with Luca Currado of Barolo’s Vietti as a consultant, to help fine-tune his viticulture and winemaking. He thinks that Currado, the Piedmont genius, can focus more on the vineyards than in the winery. And the results were impressive, based on what I tasted from barrel. The 2007 looks to be the best ever Syrah from Cortona.

Massimo is also working with Christine Vernay, whose family, under the label of Georges Vernay, makes excellent Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. “It’s just something friendly at the moment, but Christine is convinced we have great potential,” he explained.

The top Syrah from d'Alessandro ­ Il Bosco, the 1997, is not cheap, at about $60 a bottle US retail. But neither are most top wines from Tuscany at the moment. Nonetheless, they will soon release the newest vintage of their simple Syrah, which is a blend of wines from young vines and lots not deemed good enough to go into the top wine. It’s simply called Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Syrah Cortona. I enjoyed the 2005, but I think the 2006 will even better. It should be less than $20 a bottle, Massimo says.

I’m still not sure I can nail down what makes Tuscan Syrah different than other Syrahs in the world. Maybe it’s the rich and ripe character, with the fresh acidity and racy tannins? The same appears true in Tuscany with top Cabernets and Merlots or international blends. I need to think about it. But Cortona is already making a name for itself.

Robert Horvath
April 23, 2008 11:04pm ET
James,I think that the Fontodi Syrah Casa Via is also one of the best.
Tara Tan Kitaoka.
TOKYO, JAPAN. —  April 24, 2008 5:37am ET
DEAR JAMES,HAVE U EVER MOVE AWAY FROM ALL POPULAR NAMESAND LOOK FOR A NEW STAR THAT COULD BE THENEXT BEST WINE-MAKER OF ITALY NEXT TIME U PICK UP YR PEN???.I HAVE NOTICED THAT U ONLY TALK ABT THE SAMEWINE MAKERS AND WINERIES , ALL COMMON PEOPLE TALK ABT.WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GREAT DICOVERY JAMES SUCKLING,WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM ???.10 YEARS IN ITALY, IT WOULD BE NICE TO HEAR MOREABT WINES THAT U DISCOVERED PERSONALLY, NOT JUSTTHE POPULAR ONES. EVERY MAGAZINES IN THE WORLDLOOKS LIKE COPYING FROM EACH OTHER. WE ARE LOOKING FOR THAT SPECIAL ELEMENT YEARLY, THE SENSE OF CHALLENGE YEARLY.U USED TO HAVE THAT WHEN U FIRST JOINED WINE SPECTATOR.WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT FIRE ???.PLS THINK ABT , WHAT I HAVE WROTE.YR WINE FAN.
James Suckling
 —  April 24, 2008 6:41am ET
Gee thanks for that Tara Tan! There's plenty of new producers coming up, especially from Sicily. Don't jump to conclusions.
Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  April 24, 2008 7:35am ET
James, is there a way to see past tasting notes to see how the wine has evolved. I know the website used to have several of the same vintage when there were multiple tastings; didn't know if it was possible to get that back.
James Suckling
 —  April 24, 2008 7:45am ET
I thought we had that function. Let me check with our web tsar -- Dana Nigro.
James Suckling
 —  April 24, 2008 7:51am ET
I figured out why. The Tenimenti Luigi d'Alessandro Syrah Toscana Podere Il Bosco used to be called Fattoria di Manzano Syrah Toscana Il Bosco. They changed the name a few years back. So, Il Bosco has two notes in our database, a new one and an old one. Does that help?
Dana Nigro
New York, NY —  April 24, 2008 10:28am ET
Hi Bryan,

Yes, you can still see older tasting notes for wines. Our search results page displays the most recent note, and then if you click on the wine name, you'll get a more detailed display. Previous tasting notes for any wine rated multiple times will display below the most current note.

But as James points out, if the producer changes the name on the label, that throws a wrench into the works, as the wine gets a new ID # in our database and our system doesn't know to match up the wines to pull all the past notes.

Dana Nigro, managing editor, WineSpectator.com
Vinideus In The Pearl
Portland, OR —  April 24, 2008 1:37pm ET
The Terre del Marchesato Syrah is epic. Really the first Italian Syrah that awoke me to the potential for this amazing varietal. James, thanks for blowing the secret.
Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  April 24, 2008 1:38pm ET
Thanks...good to know. I appreciate you all clearing that up for me; keep up the great work!
Al Larson
San Carlos,CA —  April 25, 2008 2:11pm ET
I agree w/ Robert H...I just love the Fontodi Syrah Casa Via!!! James keep up the great work.. I enjoy your thoughts and blogs. Al Larson...San Carlos CA.
Jonathan Li
Toronto —  April 28, 2008 6:51pm ET
James,I have a case of the 2003 d'Alessandro Il Bosco Syrah and have tasted a couple of bottles. I actually found the wine to be very tannic and much more pleasant to drink with food than stand-alone (putting it nicely!). Is this a function of its young age or can i expect this to continue with bottle age....not to start a war, but it also raises the debate (at least for me) of drinking certain (red) wines with or without food.Jon
James Suckling
 —  April 29, 2008 9:18am ET
Johnathan. I have foud the Il Bosco Syrah to soften with age. So give it a couple of years or decant it an hour or two before serving.

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