Young Sommeliers Tasting–Rhone Grape Varieties–Part Two

The next flight featured Mourvedre based red wines.  For many, the Mourvedre grape variety is a tough one to get to know & understand.  It can very easily make very non-chalant, raisiny wine or very high acid, super tannic juice or a combination of all of the above.  In actually, therefore, there really isn’t too many I would buy for our restaurants, for many reasons.

Here are 3.  The 2009 Skaggs “Montage”–Superstar entertainer Boz Skaggs is also a real wine lover.  On his 2 visits to VINO, he ordered red wines from southern France.  So, it is B Wine #4understandable that when he planted his own vineyard, 1100 to 1400 feet up (3 to 4 week longer hang time in comparison to the valley floor below) Mount Veeder (Napa Valley), it would be to mainly Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre grape varieties & which he would organically farm.  The mix of grape varieties %’s change each vintage.  The 2009 is 48% Mourvedre, 38% Grenache, 9% Syrah & 5% Counoise.  The resulting wine has a darker, more masculine edge than I tasted in his previous releases, but it still flows so evenly & completely from beginning to end.  The 2012 Force Majeure “Collaboration VI” features high quality Clos de Ciel vineyard grapes & the winemaking talents of James Mantone of Syncline.  The 2012 is 55% Mourvedre, 39% Syrah & 6% Grenache, fermented & aged in concrete & large puncheons.  This masculine, sultry, intriguingly rustic gives an inkling to the potential the Mourvedre grape variety really has in Washington state.  The 2013 Domaine Gros Nore Bandol–is the family project of avid hunter Alain Pascal.  The 2013 is 80% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache & 5% Cinsault grown in their estate’s clay dominated soils.  The 2013 was partially de-stemmed & spent 18 months in foudres.  Eventhough this remarkably “rising” star is only hundreds of yards away from the iconic Domaine Tempier, these wines are so decidedly different–much more masculine, earthy, robust….still with lots of the rustic, meaty, gamey, wild herb qualities it shares with Tempier.  B Wine #7

We decided to taste the 2013 Keplinger “Sumo” on its own as this wine is very different from anything else we poured on this afternoon.  I think we can safely say, this is a big, masculine, lavish, opulent, full throttle beast of a red wine, which the name “Sumo” aptly describes.  The 2013 is 76% Petite Sirah, 20% Syrah & 4% Viognier, all from the Shake Ridge Vineyard up in Amador county.  The 2013 was aged in muids d’Oc & demi muids from Burgundy.  Rated 94 to 95 points & a 270 case production, I would say, makes this a real challenge to get.

The next flight featured 5 Syrah based red wines, so that tasters could better understand what this innately noble grape variety can offer.  The first of the 5 was the 2013 Gramercy Syrah “Lower East”–here is what the  winemakers had to succinctly say–“Walla Walla lies in the Lower East corner of Washington State. Our goal was to make a fantastic Syrah at a fantastic price. B Wine #8Previously called the Lower East Southern Blend, in 2013 we decided to change the wine to a 100% Syrah blend. The 2013 combines the freshness and acidity of Minick and Upland Vineyard, sitting at 1300 ft in the Yakima Valley, with the funk and meatiness of the rocks at Stoney Vine and SJR Vineyards in Walla Walla“.  The wine spent 16 months in French, only 10% new.  How can true wine lovers not love the wonderful elegance coupled with the gamey, rustic, masculine, savory character of this wine?  Furthermore, this is essentially the “entry” level Syrah for this standout Washington producer.  There are several other very stylish Syrahs in their portfolio to try, as well as a most interesting Mourvedre based red.  The 2012 Mollydooker “Carnival of Love”, exemplified a lavish, opulent, decadent 95 point rated Australian Syrah fruit bomb in all its glory.  The 2013 came from the Gateway Vineyard in McLaren Vale & was aged in 100% new American oak.  This side by side provided a very clear comparison between 2 very different takes on Syrah based wines of the New World.  The 2011 Faury Syrah “L’Art Zele”, in comparison is a more traditional minded Syrah from France’s northern Rhone Valley.   The grapes actually came from a small parcel, 850 feet in elevation, only 150 feet from the Cote Rotie appellation boundary.  The 2011 was 70% de-stemmed & spent 15 months in 5 to 15 year old demi muids.  The classical stony, meaty, gamey, lavender/violets, hawthorne northern Rhone character just jumped out of the glass with such a wonderful textural, balanced & classy mouthfeel.  This classical style reminded me of what true Syrah was like when I was growing up in the industry, & I was immediately reminded of such classics as those from Joseph Panel.  The next 2 wines came about from a collaborative meeting of 2 giants of the wine field–legendary French wine maestro Louis Barruol & superstar wine importer Kermit Lynch.  The first of the wines we tasted was the 2012 Crozes Hermitage “Les Batits”.  It’s not often one runs across an engaging,  attention grabbing Crozes Hermitage, much less a good one, worth the asking priceQuite candidly I was somewhat skeptical before trying this wine.  The dangling carrot, however, is that Louis Barruol has such a passion for the old, standout Petite Serine selection of Syrah grown in the northern Rhone Valley.  Because of his long time reputation & his (& his family’s) resulting network & relationships, Barruol is therefore able to find & source these heirloom/heritage grapes.  Because he then passionately crafts each as unique individuals, we therefore thankfully get some really “good”, authentic, artisanal Syrah rather than losing them to huge negociant blends (which usually are more about generalities rather than uniqueness).  This parcel features 40 to 50 year old vines in sandy loam soils, is 90% destemmed, fermented in cement & aged for 15 months in 1 to 2 year old barrels.  This really was a pleasure to savor & certainly (& thankfully) provided the impetus to reminiscent of the old days AND the pure enjoyment of & sense of wonder created by the wines of the old days.  B Wine #12The final wine of this flight was the 2009 Cote Rotie “La Boisselée”.  I really loved this wine as it vividly reminded me of the old days & why I so passionately loved northern Rhone Valley Syrah based reds.  Aside from the characteristic gaminess, rusticity, stoniness, pepper, it still was so wonderfully aristocratic & regal.  And, I am not sure how many would say this wine also had a loveliness & charm, without taking anything away from its masculinity, virility or rusticity.  I wish more people could taste wines like this, so they can better understand the incredible, true potential the Syrah grape variety innately has.  AND, although lately I have been more enamored by what I have been tasting out of Cornas than Cote Rotie, this wine resoundingly reminded me how inspiring Cote Rotie can be.  I am really hoping this collaborative project can continue sourcing this quality level of Petite Serine for their cuvees.

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