What Am I Tasting?

This dense and grippy red shows blackberry, licorice, tobacco and iron notes ... Play the game!

October 02, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: This is brimming with steeped plum, blackberry and cassis notes, inlaid liberally with licorice root, singed juniper, tar and tobacco accents. A lingering echo of smoldering cast iron emerges on the grippy finish, along with a swath of warm humus details, giving this a dense and chewy feel. The core of fruit is massive, but this requires patience.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our dense mystery wine has gripping tannins and displays rich dark fruit flavors with herbal, minerally and savory accents. Let’s see if we can figure out what it is!

We can begin by eliminating Gamay, the primary grape of France’s Beaujolais region. Gamays tend to show red fruit flavors, rather than the dark fruits we’re looking for, and are generally light-bodied with low tannins.

Barbera is primarily grown in Italy’s Piedmont region, where it produces rich wines with notes of plum, blackberry and licorice. This would be a good match for our wine, except that we are missing Barbera’s notably high acidity. Plus, our wine’s gripping tannins would be unusual for a Barbera. Let’s keep looking!

St. Laurent is a signature Austrian grape, grown mainly in the country’s Burgenland region. Like our wine, its signature flavors include blackberry and tobacco. While St. Laurents can show iron and licorice elements, it would be unusual for one to show our wine’s humus detail. We would also expect lower levels of tannin from a St. Laurent. Maybe there’s a better fit?

In some regions, Cabernet Franc can produce wines with gripping tannins and rich dark fruits, along with leafy and herbal accents, although it is often made in a lighter, more restrained style. While this sounds like a potential match, we are missing Cabernet Franc’s hallmark green pepper note. And while Cabernet Francs can be minerally, this tends to be expressed as stone, slate or graphite, not as cast iron.

Syrah, also known as Shiraz, originates in France and produces rich, full-bodied wines with dark fruits and heavy tannins, plus dark mineral notes and herbal accents like anise and tobacco. These can also come with savory notes like black olive and pepper. This sounds much closer to what we’re looking for.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country or Region of Origin

Travelling far from its French origins, Syrah is now grown throughout the world. However, not every region is known for producing Syrahs. For instance, it would be difficult to find Syrah plantings in Austria, where red grapes like Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent take the lead. And while a few producers are experimenting with Syrah bottlings in Oregon, Pinot Noir is by far the region’s premier grape. There are Syrah plantings in Italy, mainly in Tuscany, and several Syrah bottlings are produced there. But for the most part Syrah is still predominantly used as a blending grape for the country’s super Tuscans, and Syrah has yet to achieve the significance of Tuscan Sangiovese, Cabernet or Merlot.

Syrah has certainly found a second home in Australia, where it is bottled under its "Shiraz" moniker. With Australian plantings dating to the 19th century, Shiraz has become the country‘s top red grape, and is well-known for producing ripe versions with dark fruit and fruit cake flavors, plus rich accents of cocoa, coffee, tea and baking spices. Along with these lush accents, Australian Shiraz often has ripe, supple tannins, owing to the region’s heat. While also full-bodied and tannic, French Syrah tends to have firm, gripping tannins alongside herbal, savory and minerally accents. This French style seems like the better fit for our wine.

This Syrah is from France.

Appellation

We know that our Syrah is French, so we can eliminate Australia’s Eden Valley, Austria’s Kremstal, Italy’s Molise and Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton District. This leaves us with the French appellations of Beaujolais and Cornas.

Beaujolais lies just south of Burgundy and is well-known for its red wines. Although the region can produce fuller, ageable reds with earth and mineral details, these are produced from the region’s star grape, Gamay. But Syrah is the preeminent variety harvested in the northern Rhône Valley, including the comparatively small Cornas appellation, where the grape is used to produce full-bodied reds with dark fruit, mineral details and plenty of tannins.

This wine is from Cornas.

Age

Syrah’s naturally high tannins and acidity make for ageable reds, and the appellation’s vintners tend to cellar and age their wines for at least three years before release. Our Syrah’s tannins are still gripping and it isn’t showing hallmark signs of age, like mushroom and leather notes, so we can figure out its age by looking at the most recently released vintages for Cornas.

The 2017 vintage was considered a success for the northern Rhône, offering an ideally dry, warm season that produced Syrahs with juicy fruits like cherry, and mineral details like wet rock and chalk. Growers faced more difficulty in 2016, a year of rain and hailstorms. But hot weather around harvest season helped produce a crop of Syrahs with firm tannins and dark fruit, as well as herbal and mineral elements. 2015 is regarded as one of the northern Rhône’s greatest vintages, following a year of drought and cool nights that helped wines retain acidity. The resulting Syrahs tend to have baked blue and dark fruit notes, plus accents like loamy earth, bay leaf, charcoal and chalk. It looks like the tannins and flavors of 2016’s Syrahs work best for our wine.

This Cornas is from the 2016 vintage, making it 4 years old.

Wine

This is the A. Clape Cornas 2016, which scored 98 points in the Feb. 29, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $150. For more on the Rhône Valley, check out senior editor James Molesworth’s tasting report "Forging Ahead" in the Feb. 29, 2020, issue.

—Taylor McBride, editorial assistant