Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Syrah

At our Syrah tasting event last Thursday evening, six of us compared six bottles of Syrah – four from California and two from France. It was a pretty good lineup, but the top three finishers were all from California’s Central Coast appellation. It was clear that all six of us who formed the night’s tasting panel have true California palates.

The colors in our glasses were a deep violet – two with a slight degree of gold banding about the edges – but the aromas and flavors were richly contrasting between spiciness, fruitiness, and smokiness. A moderate degree of chewiness was present in most; aroma, taste, texture, and finish all combined to generate an exceptionally high score in the night’s eventual winner.

None of these wines were older than the 2003 vintage, yet all are drinkable now.

Paired with our Syrah were whole-wheat seeded breads, a sharp Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, a softer Edam cheese, and an excellent sun-dried tomato/cream cheese fondue prepared in my kitchen by Chef Tanya. All were terrific accompaniments to our Syrah wines.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my thoughts about each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+4

2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California

14.4%

$25

+3

2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

15.0%

$32*

+1

2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast

14.5%

$15

-1

2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France

14.0%

$20

-2

2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia

13.5%

$15

-5

2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

12.8%

$NA


Winehiker’s Ranking

19pts

2004 “R” Runquist, Paso Robles, California

14pts

2004 Andrew Murray Tout Le Jours, Central Coast

12pts

2003 Mas Grand Plagniol, Costieres de Nimes, France

13.5pts

2003 Thomas Fogarty, Fat Buck Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

11.5pts

2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s, Livermore, Califronia

8.5pts

2004 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitages, France

In this tasting, the group scores, as well as my individual scores, were quite widespread; in both we had a clear favorite in the Runquist and a clear nonfavorite in the Darnaud, which exhibited an incredibly earthy taste. I loved the fruity aroma, the rich vanilla smokiness, and the velvet textures of the Runquist; the only criterion I did not score it highest on was finish, which lingered perhaps only 15-20 seconds. My selection for the evening was the Fogarty, purchased directly at the winery above Palo Alto; I had liked it enough to buy it this summer during a post-hike visit, but it was much more of a hit with the group than it was with me. Indeed, I liked the Plagniol more.

Winehiker’s Bottom Line
If you would buy a California-grown Syrah priced in the mid-twenties, you cannot go wrong should you choose to lay in a stock of the Runquist and the Fogarty.

~winehiker
*It would appear that Fogarty’s 2004 Fat Buck Ridge Syrah has gone up in price in the few short weeks since I purchased it; it’s now $50 per bottle.

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Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Côtes Du Rhône

Six of us wine-loving folk got together last Thursday evening to taste wines from France’s fabled Côtes du Rhône region.

I’ve always enjoyed a bottle of Côtes du Rhône when I’ve had one around, but I had not explored them very deeply. In my experience, they are light and refreshing – often too light for cool evenings, but perfect for warm summer nights.

A bottle of Côtes du Rhône red is most often produced from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and even Cinsault grapes, with Grenache typically being the greatest component at 60-70% of the blend. I’m happiest when this blend is about 70/30 Grenache to Syrah, without too much Mourvédre-induced tannin. The result is typically fruity with a slight to moderate finish, possibly with a little spice on the palate; it is best when chilled lightly for warm weather tasting, and often meant to be drunk young.

We tasted our wines slightly chilled on a comfortable August evening lightly fanned by cooling and welcome breezes from the San Francisco Bay. We also enjoyed sourdough bread and slices of Emmenthaler and Morbier Au Lait Cru cheeses, as well as a divine fig chutney prepared by one of my guests, Chef Tanya, who also brought a fine truffle paté.

Of the six wines we compared, five were true Côtes Du Rhône reds, having been grown and produced in the great Rhône Valley. While none of us could boast a palate able to parcel out the proportions of Grenache, Syrah, etc., that existed in these wines, I detected tannic notes in some that suggested more than a hint of Mourvédre – something I didn’t expect to overpower the Grenache as much as it did. The result influenced the group toward two clear favorites.

A sixth wine immediately turned out to be a rosé from the Rhône Valley. Sure, one early clue was the clear bottle it was presented in – despite bottle coverings – as opposed to the green tapered shoulders of the other five bottles. While it may have been an oversight on the part of the particular attendee who brought this wine, we all thought it was exceptional, having provided good contrast to the five Côtes du Rhône reds, and a great one to savor after scoring the other five. We did our best to score this one, too; however it didn’t make sense to compare it in the group ranking. While I have never been much of a rosé fan, I found myself exclaiming over the full-bodied strawberry/cherry flavors and consummate finish in this slightly-sweet 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé from Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles (13.5%).

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. My personal ranking of each wine follows.

Group Ranking
+4 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas; 14.5%
+3 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin; 14.5%
-2 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13.5%
-2 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13%
-3 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange; 13.5%

Winehiker’s Ranking
17 pts. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin
15 pts. 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas
12.5 pts. 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange
12 pts. 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape
11 pts. 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape
17 pts. 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé, Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles

My picks were nominally consistent with the group’s. I like my Côtes du Rhônes fruity, non-tannic, and simple. Considering that my favorite, the Clos du Caillou, is rated elsewhere at 88 points on a 100-point scale – typical of the Wine Spectator scale and others, and translating to 17.5 on the Davis scale – well heck, I guess my interpretation ain’t so far off. I tried each of these wines the following day, too, right out of the icebox without benefit of warming to room temperature, and I still ranked them the same.

~winehiker

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Gewurztraminer

I recently began hosting biweekly blind tastings at my home as a series of small-group learning experiences. Five of us got together last Thursday evening to taste Gewurztraminer wines.

Gewurztraminers, with their floral, spicy aromatics and slightly sweet lychee-nut taste, are an excellent match for fresh fruit and cheeses and a good complement to many simple fish and chicken dishes, especially recipes that include pepper spices, oriental five-spice, or even curry. These are especially excellent wines to serve chilled in warm weather, and I complemented them with slices of sourdough bread and Chevre, Gruyere, and Boursin cheeses; one bottle’s label suggests trying Munster or blue-veined cheeses.

Of the five wines we compared, three were produced in Alsace, France; one originates from Alexander Valley in California; and one is from New Zealand. As you’ll see from the results below – and being no great surprise to me – the Alsatian wines tallied well with the group.

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content). If no link exists for a particular label, that label is quite possibly no longer available.

In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my 20-point Wine Scoring Sheet.

Group Ranking
+3: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
+1: 2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
-1: 2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
-2: 2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

Winehiker’s Ranking
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2003 Pierre Sparr, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2004 Huia, Marlborough Vineyard, New Zealand; 14.5%
2003 Domaines Schlumberger, Fleur, Alsace, France; 13.5%
2005 New Gewurz North Coast, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg; 12.8%

The Alsace appellation was a definite influence on my purchase of the Schlumberger; the interesting aspect being that at this particular tasting, we scored two identical bottles. Why did one win group favor and the other take third place? Probably because I had poured mine right out of the refrigerator; the other, though having been chilled all day, had ample chance to warm up inside an attendee’s car on an evening that was a tad above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The group, on such an evening, easily favored the cooler of the two.

My picks were fairly consistent with the group’s; I definitely like my Gewurz’s chilled. Conclusion: you sure can’t miss with those Alsatian Gewurztraminers!

~winehiker