what am i tasting?


Tasting Note

Posted March 28, 2013 This is full of personality with mineral and pepper accents to the polished ripe plum and blackberry fruit. Juicy, spicy and expressive, the flavors linger effortlessly on the long finish.

And the answer is...


Varietal:

This wine has plenty of character with its ripe fruit flavors and pepper accents, but the mineral note is perhaps our biggest clue. It's also juicy and expressive so we can infer that it has some fresh acidity to balance the flavors. But what could it be?

Taking what we know we can quickly eliminate Gamay and Dolcetto from our list. Both are high-acid reds, and Gamay shows very light tannins while Dolcetto is known for floral and almond flavors more than mineral notes.

Blaufränkisch, also called Lemberger, is an Austrian grape that produces wines with refreshing acidity and it can show solid tannins. While this is a close match, most Blaufränkisch shows more blueberry or boysenberry fruit than blackberry, and it's not really known as a mineral-driven red, so we can move on.

Cabernet Sauvignon is known for making full-bodied, tannic wines that tend toward dark berry and, in cooler climates, herb and mineral flavors. However, we would expect more herb or tobacco notes in our wine if it were a Cabernet.

This leaves Syrah, which can make rich and distinctive wines that are supple in texture and expressive of the minerally soils on which they thrive. Its flavor signature profile includes pepper, spice, berry and cherry, plum, mineral and floral notes. We have our wine.

This is a Syrah.

Country:

While Syrah has gained a foothold in a variety of winemaking regions across the globe, the only places on our list that really focus on the grape are Washington, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Italy. Bulgaria grows a mix of local and international grapes, but Syrah doesn't have a major presence there. It's a similar situation in Austria, where vintners predominately work with local red grapes such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent.

Italy's Mediterranean climate is well-adapted for the production of Syrah and the grape has found its way into vineyards stretching from Sicily up to Tuscany. It often appears in blends but on its own it can make dense and ripe wines, often with meat or floral aromas and flavors. Close, but let's keep looking.

The two top contenders here are Washington and Australia. Syrah (called Shiraz Down Under) helped put Australian wine on the map, and it's the country's signature grape. The wines can range in style from rich and muscular to elegant and refined, with a ripe core of fruit as the common thread. Washington's signature style of Syrah is generally less opulent than Australia's, with more earth and mineral character. The wines also tend to have bright acidity and range in flavor from blackberry to plum and currant fruit, with notes of black olive and pepper. This sounds like our wine.

This Syrah is from Washington.

Age:

Syrah can be appealing in its youth but is also capable of aging for decades. As the wine ages, the flavors turn toward dried fruit, giving way to more earth and leather notes. Since our note doesn’t have any of the secondary flavors or aromas that would indicate an older wine we can safely assume it doesn’t fall in the two oldest age categories.

A few Washington producers have released their 2011 wines but 2010 is the current vintage on the market. This leaves the 3- to 5-year-old age range. A cool summer and warm autumn marked the 2008 vintage, while the 2009 vintage—a frost year—made more tannic wines. 2010 was a cool year producing crisp reds with ripe flavors, just like our wine.

This Syrah is from the 2010 vintage.

Appellation:

Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain are the two Washington appellations on our list. The former AVA rises above the Columbia River in southeast Washington with vineyards ranging in elevation from 300 to 1,800 feet. The river helps moderate the temperature in the Horse Heaven Hills, producing luscious and supple wines with refreshing acidity from a range of grapes, but the AVA is best known for Cabernet and Merlot.

The wines from Red Mountain, located at the eastern tip of the Yakima Valley, are typically richer and more tannic than those from Horse Heaven Hills. The mountain tops out at 1,500 feet and is more of a steep slope that faces southwest. The exposure means that the appellation receives plenty of sunshine and heat during the day, while cool nights and wind help the grapes retain acidity, producing wines of intensity. The mystery is solved.

This is a Red Mountain Syrah.

Wine:

This wine is the Sparkman Syrah Red Mountain Ruckus 2010, which was rated 94 points in the Oct. 15, 2012, issue. The wine retails for $42 and 223 cases were made. It's ready to drink now but may reward cellaring through 2018. For more information about Washington state Syrah, read Harvey Steiman’s tasting report in the Dec. 15, 2012, issue.

Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator

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