What Am I Tasting?

This gripping red displays chocolate, licorice and blackberry paste notes ... Play the game!

July 09, 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: Offers lots of energy, with notes of dark chocolate–covered licorice and blackberry paste, accented by tobacco and violet details that linger in the background. Offers firm grip, as the tannins need a bit more time to integrate, but this could be enjoyed now with the right food.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our energetic mystery wine has firm tannins and notes of dark chocolate, licorice and blackberry. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can start by eliminating Cinsault, a grape that makes lighter-bodied wines with red fruit notes and few tannins.

Pinot Noirs often display floral notes with moderate levels of tannins. But our wine’s firm, gripping structure and dark chocolate note would be unusual for a Pinot. Let’s move on!

Cabernet Franc can make full-bodied reds with gripping tannins, dark fruit notes and leafy accents. This sounds right, except our wine is missing Cabernet Franc’s hallmark bell pepper, chile pepper and mineral notes. Maybe another wine works better?

Austrian grape St. Laurent produces lively blackberry, tobacco and chocolate notes with anise and spice accents. This all sounds right, except St. Laurents often have low to moderate levels of soft tannins. This isn’t a match either.

When grown in warmer climates, Syrah can make full-bodied wines with plenty of firm tannins and rich notes of dark fruit preserves, chocolate, licorice and tobacco. This sounds like our wine.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country or Region of Origin

Syrah is a popular international grape. But it doesn’t have a strong foothold in Austria or Oregon. While Syrah is grown in New York state, it’s not as prominent there as other red grapes like Pinot Noir and Merlot. And New York Syrah tends to be smokier, with meaty, peppery flavors. France is Syrah’s homeland, and the grape thrives in the country’s southern wine regions. French Syrahs can display firm tannins like our wine’s, but are particularly known for their savory, minerally, peppery and herbal notes. When made in a warmer-climate region, South African Syrahs feature rich dark fruit, chocolate and licorice notes with powerful tannins. This style sounds like the best fit.

This Syrah is from South Africa.

Appellation

We know that our Syrah is from South Africa, so we can eliminate France’s Hermitage, New York’s Long Island, Oregon’s Ribbon Ridge and Austria’s Steiermark. This leaves us with the South African appellations Franschhoek and Swartland, both located on the Western Cape. Franschhoek is known for making wines from Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sémillon. Farther south, Swartland grows a variety of grapes, including Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Syrah (sometimes called Shiraz). Syrahs from Swartland are often rich and full-bodied.

This Syrah is from Swartland.

Age

Thanks to their high levels of tannins, Syrahs are generally ageworthy wines. Our red isn’t showing any significant signs of age, such as tertiary mushroom notes. And its tannins still need time to integrate, so it’s likely on the younger side. Lets look at the most recent South African vintages to figure out our wine’s age.

South Africa experienced warmer- and wetter-than-average weather during its 2019 growing season. Not many Syrahs from 2019 have been released yet, but so far it looks like these wines have red fruit flavors with chocolate and citrus accents. Drought drastically reduced yields in 2018, and that year’s Syrahs are ripe with red stone fruit, olive and mineral notes. Drought was a factor in 2017 too, but without major heat waves, which resulted in dark-fruited and chocolaty Syrahs with herbal and floral accents. Many growers picked their grapes early in 2016 due to extremely dry weather, producing a crop of ripe reds with stone fruit flavors and sanguine, peppery and spicy accents. 2017’s Syrahs sound the most like our wine.

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

Wine

This is the Mullineux Syrah Swartland Schist Roundstone 2017, which scored 94 points in the May 31, 2020, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $120, and 774 cases were made. For more on South African wine, read senior editor Alison Napjus’ tasting report, “Charting Their Own Course,” in the July 31, 2021, issue.

Taylor McBride, assistant editor