Que Syrah Syrah…
Our LBV tasting was just what we all needed to jump into this holiday season. A virtual gathering and tasting—a regrouping and collective. We created a safe space to share perspectives… on wine! As the wine showed its form, we discussed the pros and cons of Sulfites. It was a true delight to taste through two different styles of syrah—a theme that I have been focusing on this year.
I was recently involved in a project that involved writing a wine list all about syrah. I felt the need to focus on the Northern Rhone region because I very much connect with the history of the area. Northern Rhone was once abandoned after WWII and was then brought back to life in the ’70s. It was a resurgence—one I am feeling bubbling in our wine industry today. Though I spent much of my summer studying syrah, and much of the winter selling syrah, I am still in love with this varietal. I am into the deep, dark, purple color that stains and leaves a mark. I love the range that syrah offers—from a wingspan of acidity with floral elegance to a dense earthy mouthfeel and a touch gritty or sprinkled with white pepper, to a mouth full of tannins as you might get in Hermitage. I love how old oak affects syrah and how new oak affects syrah. I like classic examples that can age for decades and wines bottled Sans Soufre (meaning without sulfur).
Here are a few lovely examples of syrah, each with varied sustainability and farming practices:
A standout is Rene Rostiang Cote Rotie Ampodium 2018. Rostaing wines are rooted in tradition while keeping an eye on the future. Rene’s son, Pierre, now farms these wines organically. The wine uses 15-25% new oak barrels but maintains balance. I decanted this wine several hours before serving it. It was still full of soul and character but only just started to show its depth upon tasting. “Compact” would be a great way to describe it. The addition of new oak supports the soul but adds to it most positively, by taming the wild just a touch. These wines are hand-harvested with stems. The vintage determines the recipe for maceration time and oak treatment.
Another standout wine was Jean-Baptiste Souillard’s Saint Joseph Bergeron 2018. The growing site was formerly planted with Bergeron apricot trees. The soils there are deep—comprised of quartz and decomposed gneiss with a mix of light-colored sandy soil. This vineyard is located on a plateau at the top of a hill. It’s one of the highest points in Saint Joseph. The beautiful site allows southern exposure and cooler winds add to the underlying complexity and layers of this wine. Jean-Baptiste uses whole clusters and ferments in stainless steel with no fining or filtration. The wine then ages 13 months in older French oak. His viticultural practices are Lutte raisonnée, meaning only intervening when it’s necessary. I loved opening this wine. It was the right move to decant, as it needed to breathe. The approach was upfront, tannic, and firm. Once it opened, an elegance appeared with stony minerality and white pepper dusted through.
Wines From Our Tasting:
Eric Texier Côtes-du-Rhone Rouge St. Julien-en-St. Alban “Vieille Serine” 2014:
This wine is produced by utilizing 70+-year-old vines from a pre-clonal variety called “Serine”. Eric farms organically in the vineyard but his approach in the cellar is more hands-off—no fining or filtration and no additional SO2 added—the zero-zero approach. These wines are fermented in old wooden vats using whole cluster fruit with native yeasts for 8-10 days. They are then aged in large older French oak called “foudres” for 36-48 months. These grapes come from the Ardèche region—a microclimate with warm southern exposure and granite soils. I decided to decant this bottle for three hours before our virtual tasting. The moment I uncorked it, I was not sure this wine was sound. There was no real sense of cork taint but certainly an underlying flaw that became more apparent with time. I was able to detect some fruit, but the tannin structure spread across my palate with light tar dust, diminishing any obvious fruit that I attempted to lure from the dankness. I am a fan of Eric Texier and his zero-zero approach wines, so it is heartbreaking when they don’t survive.
Gramercy Cellars Syrah ‘Lower East’ Columbia Valley, Washington 2017:
Greg Harrington is a teacher-turned-winemaker. He was an NYC Master Sommelier who also happened to teach one of my American Sommelier Association classes. Now, as a winemaker, Greg looks to source mostly organic ripe fruit and use new oak as minimally as possible. He uses no additives and allows for longer aging time to showcase his passion for Columbia Valley wines. His grapes are sourced from three different vineyard sites, Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Holy Roller (owned by Chris Figgins of In The Rocks). Holy Roller is a site of a former riverbed that has deposited cobblestones as deep as you can dig. It is believed that these rocks combined with the dry weather add to the complexity of these wines. There was a range of depth with floral, dark plum, and brambly notes. With this, a granitic dusty range—smokey, and sometimes downright meaty. This wine seemed polished and pretty next to the wild underbelly of the Texier wine. I would be able to give a more fair assessment if both wines were showing me their bounty, but Greg’s wine stood out because it was sound. The complexity led to days of discoveries on my ongoing syrah theme of 2021!
Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on December 8th, 2021. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.
First photo via Pinterest
Join the Club to participate in
Members, view the