What can Syrah be?
Let me just say some of the true standout red wines I have experienced over the years have been Syrah based and I really can’t say that about too many other grape varieties, that have that kind of potential. In addition, I must say that I believe that Syrah seems to building more & more momentum, especially recently & when I visited some of the top wine stores in Seattle & Los Angeles recently, I was happy to see so many Syrah based red wines, especially from France, that were available on the shelves. Moving forward, just to give us a better, growing base towards understanding what Syrah can be, we put together this sampling.
2015 Faury St Joseph–Faury makes some of our favorite Syrah based red wines out of France’s northern Rhone Valley. We get so lost in the purity, stoniness, vinosity AND the lavender, violets, green peppercorn, masculine, savory rusticity of their wines. Yes, this is a standout producer of more classical styled Syrah. The vines are located around the winery on very steep hillsides. 60 to 70% de-stemmed. Foot stomped. Aged for twelve months in 24 to 35 hectoliter, 600 liter and 228 liter barrels, no more than 10% new in the rotation. This wine really started off the night by deftly setting the tone.
2016 Christelle Betton Crozes Hermitage “Espiègle”–what a comparison this wine proved to be, as it represents a style of northern Rhone Valley Syrah we seem to be encountering more & more. The 2016 was quite striking on first whiff–forward & captivating–which I think a wide spectrum of tasters would enjoy right out of the gates. In the mouth, the wine had ample, generous fruit–a cornucopia of black fruit, pepper, violets, lavender, a dash of smoke & raw meat nuances, with a round, quite delicious mouth experience. 100% Syrah. Soils are alluvial with large quartz stones. Foot crushed, wild yeast fermented and aged in old French (white Burgundy) barrels. Though quite good, I believe we get more quality for the dollar AND character from the other 3 wines of this tasting.
2016 Kermit Lynch/Louis Barruol Crozes Hermitage “Tenay” —interesting to taste 2 Crozes Hermitages side by side, even more so because this wine was actually served BLIND, just for the fun of it all. I found this wine had much more true northern character, vinosity, savage, rusticity & mojo, at a little less cost. This is a collaborative wine project between Louis Barruol & superstar wine importer/super palate Kermit Lynch. Louis Barruol’s family has been working in the Rhone Valley for 14 generations & has the “insider’s information”, network & relationships to find interesting vineyard sources, such as this one–2 barrels worth–from the lieu dit, Tenay”, 30 to 50 year old Serine vines grown in granite soils. the vineyard is located on an up slope just north of Hermitage.
2016 Clape “Vin des Amis”–There is no doubt, the name Clape is synomous with world-class Syrah. We were really sad to hear of patriarch, Auguste’s recent passing. He was certainly regarded as one of the true giants/champions of the Syrah grape variety. Vin des Amis is produced from younger Cornas vines and the core from a one hectare parcel right outside the appellation with round river stones. Stems, six months in cement and six months in large oak foudres. On first whiff, I immediately thought–wow, this is the kind of Syrah I grew up on–wild, rustic, olives, green peppercorns, meat/gamy/ floral, vinous & old style, very different than that of the Christelle Betton listed above. Certainly not a style for everyone, but you can count me in on this one. One of the tasters commented he actually preferred the 2015 bottling, because it was seemingly riper, rounder, deeper, better texture & flow on the palate. To that I would say, on this level of winemaker & vineyard site, every vintage & its growing/climatic conditions results in a different insight into what the vineyard wants to say. And, I appreciate that.
Thank you to all who came……AND brought & shared some “extra credit” Syrahs of their own after the tasting.