what am i tasting?


Tasting Note

Posted November 08, 2012 This really smolders nicely, with a dark ganache frame to the roasted fig, plum and blackberry confiture notes, all followed by racy charcoal and dark olive on the finish. A touch broader than most, but an iron spine is buried here as well, providing focus.

And the answer is...


Varietal:

With its dark, smoldering personality and buried iron spine for focus, this red is perfect for a quiet night at the lair spent plotting your next world takeover. But before you start making any big plans, we have a mystery to solve.

Let's start by eliminating the obvious phony: Pinot Noir. Typically, Pinot Noir expresses red fruit with soft tannins. What we have here has steeped dark fruit notes in a bigger package. It's not Pinot Noir.

Next up: Nebbiolo. Notorious for its tar, rose and truffle flavors, Nebbiolo matches up nicely with the smoke we're getting on this bad boy. But the wine in your glass is broad, while Nebbiolo-a highly acidic grape-produces a tight, super-structured, for-the-cellar wine. So we move on.

How about a ripe Cabernet Sauvignon? Cabernet can be very berry-forward in places like Napa Valley, and it can also have an edge of mineral, which might explain the iron spine holding this wine together. However, Cabernet is synonymous with tannins that are often referred to as chewy, a sensation that usually asserts itself on the finish. This wine, however, is broad, with no mention of chewy tannins or other descriptors often associated with tannic wines, such as leather. This is not a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our final contenders are Grenache and Syrah. Grenache exhibits jammy fruit; it can smolder with smoke, charcoal and graphite, and it can be big and broad though held together with minerality or acidity. It could be what's in your glass right now, except for one thing: The olive note is textbook Syrah. Grenache expresses a sweet juicy fruit character, whereas Syrah shows a darker side with pepper and olive flavors.

Country:

Out of the five countries on our list, only three seem to be a possibility with our tasting note: California, Chile and France. Syrah has limited plantings in Argentina and Italy.

Although a California Syrah may come wrapped in a similar package of ripe fruit and olive, it's usually rounder, weightier and without an iron edge. This wine is not from California.

It could be a Chilean Syrah, which shows finesse in cool-climate regions such as the Casablanca Valley, and jam and olive in warmer regions. But Chilean Syrahs often exhibit a spicy, black pepper characteristic; this wine is not from Chile.

It's the mineral edge and iron note in our mystery wine that tell us this wine is from the Rhône Valley in France, which produces some of the best Syrah in the world.

This wine is from France.

Age:

This wine is young and has not yet developed any tertiary flavors that come with age, eliminating the two older age categories. Syrah is typically aged for a year or two before release, so that eliminates the 1-2 year category.

This Syrah is 3-5 years old.

Appellation:

We know this wine is from France and we know that it’s made from Syrah, which tells us that in all likelihood, this is from the Rhône Valley, where Syrah thrives.

Looking at our list’s Rhône Valley appellations, let’s start with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an AOC in the south of the region. Although Syrah is one of the 13 grapes permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends, Grenache typically plays the biggest role in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with Syrah a supporting player.

In Côte-Rotie, however, Syrah is the star. The vertiginous vineyards in the Côte-Rotie appellation are home to old-vine Syrah that is either bottled alone or mixed with a dollop of aromatic Viognier.

This Syrah is from Côte-Rotie.

Wine:

It's the Côte-Rôtie Carmina 2009 from Pierre-Jean Villa that was rated 92 points. It retails for $79 and only 83 cases were made. Côte-Rôtie (translated as "roasted hill") is one of the most successful Syrah-producing sites in the world. Though Côte-Rôtie is typically considered more feminine in its elegance and bouquet than it's Northern Rhône brother Hermitage, it's backed by an edgy structure and sanguine (or iron) note that shows well in the cellar.

For more information about the 2009 vintage in France's Rhône Valley, read senior editor James Molesworth's 2009 vintage report card.

Morgan Taylor, assistant tasting coordinator

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