What Am I Tasting?

This structured and vibrant red displays blackberry, black olive and beef flavors ... Play the game!

May 14, 2021

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: Impressively structured and polished, with a vibrant backbone of minerality and tannins wrapped in spirited blackberry, black olive and smoky pepper beef flavors, building toward medium-grained tannins.

And the answer is...


Our vibrant wine displays notes of blackberry, olive, pepper and smoked beef, along with mineral accents and medium-grained tannins. Let’s figure out what it could be!

We can immediately eliminate Cinsault, a grape that makes lighter-bodied wines with low levels of tannins. And unlike our wine, Cinsaults usually display red berry, floral and tea notes.

Dolcettos can show blackberry and pepper notes, plus our wine’s body and tannins. But Dolcettos often have decidedly low levels of acidity, which doesn’t make sense for our vibrant wine. And it would be unlikely for a Dolcetto to show our wine’s structure and meat note. Let’s move on!

Dark fruit and smoke aromas are hallmarks of Tannat, along with moderate levels of acidity. But Tannat is also known for producing bold, full-bodied wines with lots of gripping tannins. Our mystery wine has some structure, but this doesn’t sound quite right.

Tempranillo can make wines with dark fruit notes and smoky accents, plus moderate amounts of vibrant acidity and tannins. This sounds like a good match for our wine. However, our wine’s peppery beef note would be unusual for Tempranillo, which is more likely to show herb, earth and vanilla elements. We’ll have to look elsewhere.

Syrahs often show dark fruits supported by accents of olive, black pepper and smoked meat (sometimes described as “bacon” or “bacon fat”). These reds have moderate to high levels of acidity and tannins, which can be either gripping or elegant.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country or Region of Origin

Syrah is an international variety grown in the Old and New Worlds. But it would be difficult to find Syrah plantings in Uruguay, where Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the dominant red grapes. Spain harvests some Syrah, but it isn’t nearly as popular there as grapes like Tempranillo, Grenache and Monastrell. Italy grows Syrah, especially in Tuscany. But Italian vintners often use Syrah as a blending grape, particularly in the country’s super Tuscan wines. And an Italian Syrah would likely show velvety tannins and richer notes like chocolate, vanilla and toffee.

Syrah is one of the main grapes grown in Australia, where it’s known as "Shiraz" and made in several styles, including sparkling and sweet versions. Due to the country’s hot and sunny climate, Australia’s Shiraz is often full-bodied with ripe tannins, jammy fruit notes and lower levels of acidity. Washington’s Syrahs are generally made in the style of France’s Rhône Valley, and are leaner with elegant tannins and accents like olive, pepper, smoked meat and minerals.

This Syrah is from Washington.


Knowing that our Syrah is from Washington, we can eliminate Uruguay’s Canelones, Italy’s Dogliani, Spain’s Galicia and Australia’s Margaret River. This leaves us with the Washington appellations Puget Sound and Walla Walla Valley. Puget Sound is an AVA west of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, and is largely planted to grapes like Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, which do well in the region’s maritime climate. Not much Syrah is grown there. Farther south, Walla Walla Valley is among the growing handful of Washington appellations now making world-class Syrahs.

This Syrah is from Walla Walla Valley.


Our Syrah is still vibrant with structured tannins, indicating a younger wine. Bearing in mind that Washington vintners often age Syrahs for one or two years to help soften their tannins, let’s look at recent Washington vintages to determine our wine’s age. Washington had a cool autumn in 2018, but the rest of the year was hot; some 2018 Syrahs are still just being released, but top versions tend to be fuller-bodied with rich fruit and herb flavors. A cool, wet spring and a hot summer were followed by moderate harvesttime weather in 2017, yielding elegant Syrahs with dark fruit and smoky, peppery accents. Spring was warm in 2016, leading to a moderate summer and a batch of Syrahs with blue fruit flavors and floral and stony accents. Washington had a hot and sunny growing season in 2015, resulting in bold wines with espresso, stone and raspberry flavors. 2017’s Syrahs seem like the best match here.

This Syrah is from the 2017 vintage, making it four years old.


This is the Reynvaan Syrah Walla Walla Valley Stonessence 2017, which scored 94 points in the Aug. 31, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $110 and 429 cases were made. For more on Washington wines, read senior editor Tim Fish’s tasting report, "The Big Heat," in the Sept. 30, 2020, issue.

—Collin Dreizen, assistant editor