Sep
12

A Trio of Old World Syrah 09-11-14

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Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time.  Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why.  I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them.  I would be rich!

I am saddened to hear of this plight.

Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world.  Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness.  The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon.  Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.

Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.

0aa11Cote Rotie2001 Michel & Stephane Ogier Cote Rotie

The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label.  At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie.  Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000.  Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new).  In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak).  This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out.  This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture.  It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge.  I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!

1995 Noel Verset Cornas  0aa16

Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be.  His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional.  I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind.  They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue  with lots of herbal notes.  His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year.  Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring.  (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991).  Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet.  It was the end of an era.  Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset.  I was completely enthralled with the 1995.  It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage.  It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.

AAA1Hermitage rocksHermitage white stones2000 Chave Hermitage

For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah.  The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481.  The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed.  “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.”  The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west.  Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality  with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish.  His parcels have very old vines.  I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black  cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel.  Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic.  Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance.  Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge.  Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement.  L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates.  The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section.  Chave is the best at that!  and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!

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