1. Over the last yr or two, there has been a mild rebellion towards Syrahs that are big/extracted/ high in alcohol and an embracing of Syrahs that are more restrained/elegant and lower in alcohols (see #3 below). Both PaxMahle/WindGap and Duncan&Nathan/Arnot-Roberts are strong proponents of this style. So I thought it would be interesting to put together a tasting of this style of Syrah. I included the Cabots as well since they are more restrained in style, and since their '07's have just been released. Mostly, this style of Syrah is achieved by taking Syrah from rather cold-climate areas. And also by harvesting earlier so the alcohols don't get so high. And whatever modifications are necessary from the winemaking side to achieve that style. Speaking of the WindGap/A-R wines; I liked them...quite a lot. Particularly because of the aromatics, often w/ lots of NorthernRhone character. However, the high acidities of these wines made them pretty
tough on the palate to taste.
Sometimes, the acidity was on the schreechy side, which made the tannins seem pretty hard & unyielding. A few were actually rather painful to taste. Which means...these wines, at this stage of their life, really need to have food to accompany them and ameleiorate the impact on the palate. Much like Italian Barbera and Nebbiolo. That said, the high acidities, which I'm not adverse to in red wines, I view as a good sign. To me, it generally means the wines well age very well and develop some wonderful aromatics. In fact, the wines reminded me a lot of EricTexier's Rhone wines, which tend to be on the acid size. Some of those, particularly the Brezeme CdR, have aged amazingly well. I had had the A-R/WindGap reds at various venues before and had liked them quite a bit. But we'd not had the reds in my tastings. It was interesting to observe my group's take on these wines. Like me, most of them really liked the aromatics, but found them pretty tough & hard on the palate and not altogether their cup of tea. Don't think they're convinced this style is the wave of the future; they didn't share my appreciation of these wines. Not wines that'll play well in Monktown.
2. Cabot: I've followed John&Kimberly's wines from the very start. They're not your typical Calif Syrahs. The OneBrl and the Aria's both had a distinctive band-aid/adhesive tape aroma that some found off-putting. When I went back and tried them the next morning from decanter, that character was pretty much gone. So these wines are ones that should be given some breathing time I suspect. One taster confidently asserted (as he is wont to do) that the wines had a bacterial problem. I wasn't convinced that was the case, though they did have a wild/funky character in the nose. Usually, people associate a band-aid character w/ brettanomyces. I didn't see that in these wines, either. The funky character may just be the expression of KlamathRiver terroir for all I know. But they all had an underlying floral/lilacs character I really liked. They reminded me a bit of some of the Syrahs from the Languedoc, rather than the NorthernRhone w/ an earthy/dusty character. I think John&Kimberly's Syrahs are wines you need to sit down with and have a nice conversation with over several hour's time. A bit more intellectual than
most Calif Syrahs I think.
3. Back in the late '60's-early '70's (by crackey), Ridge/DavidBruce/Mayacamas/et al realized that you could make fine to great wine from Zinfandel, theretofore used mostly for jug wines. In the early-mid '70's, as the Zinfandel producers pushed the envelope to see how far they take the variety; there started to appear LatePicked/LateHarvest/Essence Zins w/ alcohols well above the then norm of 12%-13%, sometimes up above 17% or so. Increasingly, the normal alcohol levels of Zin TableWine was above 14%. This was accentuated by the drought yrs of '76-'77, when 14% alc Zins sorta became the norm.
The wine writing cabal of that day, not unlike today, were an incestuous bunch. Once somebody wrote an original idea, other writers picked up on the same theme. In the late '70's, these writers were leading a lynch mob against the increasing alcohol levels in Zinfandel. There was article after article, filled w/ rightous indignation and purple prose, as the wine writers of the day, frothing at the mouth, went on the attack of Zinfandel ("Monster Zinfandels with shabby table manners"..thank you, Charlie!!). And so what happened??? The winemakers listened these guys and started harvesting earlier, dialing back on the alcohol, seeking less extraction. Voila...we now have "food wines"...Zinfandels that were designed to...accompany food. Many of these Zins were thin/anemic/eviscerated (and lower alcohols) renditions of Zin, a shadow of their former selves a decade earlier. It was a dreadful time to be a Zin lover. The Zin market was in the doldrums. It wasn't until the late '80's (with a few exceptions), that the winemakers came to their senses and started making Zin like they used to be. Which has pretty much continued to the present day.
Now there is a new generation cabal of wine writers leading us onto the warpath again. Same ole/same ole. They rail against the intensity & extraction of Calif Pinots. They demand that the winemakers make more "natural" wines. Too many buttery/over-oaked/soft/flabby Chards. And, of course, their favorite whipping boy...the high levels of alcohol...particularly as found in Pinot and..gasp...Syrah. Hmmm...is it starting to show a pattern here?? So, over the last year, there has been a movement afoot among some of the Syrah producers to produce wines that show more elegance/balance/restraint; a reaction against the big/alcoholic/oaked/98-pt fruit bombs that Parker embraces. This is mostly achieved by planting Syrah in colder climes, harvesting earlier to attain lower alcohols.
Last March, I attended a seminar organized by BobLindquist to publicize Syrah of this type, up in Sebastapol. On the panel & showing their wines were: PatrickWill/Guigal, StevenSinger/ BakerLane, KevinClancey/EdmundsStJohn, BobLindquist/ Qupe,WellsGuthrie/ Copain, RajParr (ParrSelections), DuncanMeyer&NathanRoberts/Arnot-Roberts, and JasonDrew/DrewFamily. I thought the wines they showed were, by & large, strong testimony for this "new" style of Syrah. So...my tasting last night was to focus on Syrahs of this more restrained/elegant style. Alcohol levels ranged from 14%+ down to 11.5%. Most of these Syrahs had, by & large, wonderful aromatics...lots of cracked black pepper, very NorthernRhonish in character; less deep blackberry/ Syrah notes and more floral/lilacs/violets character that Syrah can show.
Despite the wonderful aromatics, many of these Syrahs were...just not very pleasurable to drink. Sometimes, the flavors were rather muted and tight. Many had a schreechy acidity to them on the palate; an acidity that made the (fairly modest) tannin levels seem lean/hard/harsh/bitey. I'm not particularly acid-adverse and believe a good/high acidity is an important component of their ageibility. But some of these were actually painful to drink....not a pleasure. On the plus side, I think most of these Syrahs, because of their acidity level, will probably age into something pretty interesting. But, at this point in time, they offered up little pleasure on the palate. Maybe w/ food I would have liked them more...who knows.
So...after that brief laying of the groundwork...my question: Do you feel that this mob of wine writers/bloggers/tweeters are, once again, like they did in the early-'80's with Zin, leading us down the primrose path with Syrah in their incessant/strident demands for lower-alcohol/more-restrained/more food-friendly style of Syrah??? Talk amongst yourselves. Definitive opinion will be offered up in a few days.