Sunday, June 17, 2012

Syrah, My Love

Well, not my only love, but one of my loves.  I'll be tempted to write another title like that for Grenache, as I love both of these big, strong, spicy reds very much.  Last week's wine class was focused on Syrah (also known as Shiraz) from  around the world, and with just a few exceptions they were all excellent.

Syrah is a warm-weather friend, and loves warm-to-hot places.  As a result, it's grown in warmer parts of France (the Rhone Valley from tip to tail), Spain, Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, Washington, and - remarkably - British Columbia.  This grape buds late and ripens early, and it over-ripens quickly, so harvesting ripe grapes before they turn to jam on the vine is key to a quality wine.  The wine from places like California and Australia really can tend toward jamminess - sometimes unpleasantly - because the weather is too hot for the grape and over-ripening is common.

Syrah is the darling grape of the very famous Northern Rhone wine appellations - Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cornas.  While all of the Northern Rhone wines must be mostly made with Syrah to garner the right to state an appellation on their label, only wine from Cornas is made with 100% Syrah.  One such wine happened to be one of my faves of the evening; we tasted Franck Balthazar's inky-dark-cherry 2009 Chaillot.  It was full of sweet plum and currant on the nose, with mouth-watering notes of garlic sausage.  The palate was a tightly-packed mouthful of plum and cherry, with a smokey mid-palate and a light touch of lemon on the finish.  This bottle would have loved another 5-7 years in the cellar, even though it was delicious to drink last week as well!  I'm not sure if I'll be able to find it in 5 years at the LCBO ($38) - I suspect that it'll be snapped up, and maybe has been already.

My second favourite of the night was another from the Rhone, but I feel that it's unfair to write about two from the same region, so I'm going to defer to my third favourite, which was Chateau St. Jean's 2006 Syrah from Sonoma Coast, in California.  This wine was quite a contrast to Balthazar's: darkly complex on the nose with hints of licorice, plum, mint, blueberry, and smoked brisket.  The palate was full of fresh herbs and dark wildberries, with a refreshing finish of cherry, plum, and coffee.  This wine could also sit around for another 3-5 years, but it certainly doesn't need to.  It drank wonderfully, and it's not showing any signs of slowing down. ($40 at LCBO)

This week coming I have an exam, and then more wines to taste!  I think two grapes in one class, so I'll write up my favourite of each.

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