what am i tasting?


Tasting Note

Posted January 03, 2013 Dense and chewy, this offers a rustic yet pleasing mix of wild and dried berry, crushed rock, charred game meat and dried herb, with a combination of flavors and texture that's hard to duplicate.

And the answer is...


Varietal:

This wine sounds like an ideal candidate for sipping by the fire on a cold, rainy night. Descriptors like dense, chewy and rustic help point the way to our varietal; we can start by eliminating a few options that don't fit that description.

First there's Pinot Noir, which is generally described as light, delicate or elegant. While there are some Pinots that can lean toward more robust in style, the fruit profile doesn't match either, as Pinot tends to have cherry, raspberry, earth and spice notes.

Also not a good fit is Counoise. This grape is used primarily for blending in Rhône-style wines, but on its own it tends to be quite light-bodied and fruity, without much depth to it.

Tempranillo can sometimes make quite tannic wines because of the thickness of its skins. While this might sound like the source of the dense, rustic and chewy descriptors in our wine, Tempranillo's powerful tannins contribute less to the final wine’s heft than they do to the lightly astringent, drier finish that is associated with the grape. Also missing in our description are the telltale Tempranillo notes of cherry, tobacco and leather.

Then there's Nebbiolo, which can be a troubling grape to work with. Nebbiolo is difficult to grow because it likes cooler nighttime temperatures to preserve acidity, but warm- to hot-daytime temperatures to ensure ripeness. It can also be quite temperamental in the cellar because it often takes longer to ferment than many other grapes. Nebbiolo has pronounced tannins but is usually marked by tartness in its youth with relatively high acids, which is incongruous with our described wine.

This leaves us with Syrah. Syrah can yield intense wines, because their berries are thick-skinned and produce concentrated flavors and tannins with a chewy texture. Syrah is capable of a wide range of flavors, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, but the dried herbs and meaty flavors along with wild berries as we see here are quintessential Syrah qualities.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country:

Syrah is grown in several countries, however, it is not a prominent variety in Spain or Italy, so we can take them out of the equation.

Syrah in Washington is growing at a rapid pace. In 1990 there were a mere 40 acres; now there are more than 3,000 acres. Washington Syrahs are typically luscious, fruit-driven wines, not rustic, and are less often referred to as dense and chewy than Syrah from other areas.

Which leaves us with France and California. More than half the world's total Syrah acreage is planted in France, which makes this country an ideal candidate. However, Syrah from France generally shows the trademark flavors of minerality and black pepper. And while we get the note of “crushed rock,” French Syrah tends to be less dense than the wine we have here—more sleek, with layered concentration. Syrahs from California are usually rounder and often described as chewy, where the top French Syrahs are often more minerally, with a sometimes austere structure in their youth.

This wine is from California.

Age:

We can eliminate one to two years as a choice, because Syrah typically sees time in oak before release to tame some of its bigger structure and tannins.

However, this wine is dense and chewy, and still showing bright berry flavors, which points to a more youthful wine, as Syrah tends to lose its fruit faster than its tannins once it matures. All signs point us to the mid-range of three to five years old. 2008 had low yields and good concentration, but the 2008s were a little more lush and approachable in their youth. 2009's yields were also low, which means good concentration of flavors, but the acids in 2009 were considerably lower, and the tannins a bit softer. The 2010 growing season in California was noted for being extremely cool, which allowed for slow maturation of focused flavors.

This Syrah, from the 2010 vintage, is three years old.

Appellation:

Since we know we're in California, we can show Barolo, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rioja and Volnay the door; leaving us with Carneros and Paso Robles.

Syrah is adaptable and can grow in both warm and cool climates. The difference is in the style. Paso's warm days generally make for ripe wines, and its cool nights impart lively acidity. The ripeness is missing from our description, which has become a trademark of Paso Robles.

So Carneros it is. Hudson Vineyard, where the grapes for this wine come from, is the oldest Syrah planting in Carneros and farmed by the esteemed Lee Hudson. Despite Carneros being a cool winegrowing region and Syrah needing a lot of sunlight to ripen, there is something about Hudson Vineyard that just works. The cooling breezes in Carneros allow the grapes to hang on the vine longer, which further develops flavor and intensity without being overripe.

This Syrah is from Carneros.

Wine:

It's the Bedrock Syrah Carneros T'n'S-Blocks Hudson Vineyard South 2010, which received 92 points in the Dec. 31, 2012, issue. It retails for $42, and 225 cases were made. We recommend drinking it now through 2024. For more information about Rhône-style wines from California, see James Laube’s tasting report in the March 31, 2012, issue of Wine Spectator.

—Aaron Romano, assistant tasting coordinator

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