What Am I Tasting?

This red sports dark fruit, pepper, tar and tobacco notes with a grippy finish ... Play the game!

June 10, 2022

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 sports a high-pitched white pepper note that darts around amidst a core of juicy black cherry and black currant pâte de fruit flavors, while tar and tobacco notes add energy and texture on the grippy finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery red sports juicy dark fruit, tobacco and pepper notes with gripping tannins. Let’s figure out what it is!

We can begin by eliminating Pinot Noir, which often makes lighter-bodied reds with red fruit notes and lower levels of tannins. Plus, our wine’s tar and pepper notes would be unusual for a Pinot Noir.

Carmenères can have high-pitched spice notes. But these generally accompany red fruit and vegetal flavors, which doesn’t sound right for our wine either.

While Cinsaults can display currant, cherry and tobacco notes, they also tend to be lighter-bodied wines with lower levels of tannins. This grape has to go too.

Tannats balance lively dark fruit flavors with herbal notes, which sounds correct. However, our wine doesn’t have the concentrated body and extremely high levels of bold tannins we would expect from a Tannat. Maybe another grape works better?

Syrah makes reds with moderate to high levels of acidity and gripping tannins, along with dark fruit flavors and peppery, herbal accents. This sounds closest to the mark.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country or Region of Origin

Syrah grows around the world, but there are few plantings in Germany. There is some Syrah grown in Uruguay, but much of it is for blending with grapes such as Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. Argentina makes a significant amount of Syrah, often in a rich style with juicy fruit, chocolate, coffee, pastry and spice notes. California is also a significant Syrah region, offering riper versions with plush tannins and chocolate, coffee and meat accents. This contrasts with Syrahs from France, the grape’s origin, which are known for their grippier tannins and herbal, earthy notes. French Syrah sounds like the best match.

This Syrah is from France.

Appellation

We know that our Syrah is French, so we can eliminate Germany’s Ahr, Uruguay’s Artigas, California’s Mendocino and Argentina’s Mendoza. This leaves us with two French appellations: Bergerac and Crozes-Hermitage. Located in Southwest France, Bergerac is known for its dark-fruited and gripping reds made from Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Farther east in the Northern Rhône Valley, Crozes-Hermitage makes red wines exclusively from Syrah. Our wine must be from there.

This Syrah is from Crozes-Hermitage.

Age

Our Syrah isn’t showing any significant signs of age, such as mushroom or leather accents. Bearing in mind that Crozes-Hermitage domaines tend to age their Syrahs for several years in oak, let’s look at some of the Northern Rhône Valley’s most recent appellations to figure out our red’s age. Windy weather and hail reduced crops in 2019, and that year produced very concentrated Syrahs with stone fruit, licorice and mineral flavors. Summer was hot and dry in 2018, but without heat spikes, leading to gripping reds with dark fruit, tobacco and pepper notes. Vines benefitted from a long, warm and dry growing season in 2017, and the resulting reds display anise, olive, tea and iron notes. 2018’s crop sounds closest to what we’re looking for.

This wine is from the 2018 vintage, making it four years old.

Wine

This is the François Villard Crozes-Hermitage Certitude 2018, which scored 92 points in the Oct. 31, 2021, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $28, and 2,559 cases were made. For more on the Northern Rhône Valley, read senior editor James Molesworth’s tasting report, "Into the Groove," in the Feb. 28, 2022, issue.