Ten wine bottles concealed in brown paper bags in a crowd of 15 – 20 people can send some into cold sweats of stress and anxiety. This is totally uncalled for! In the friendly environment of a home where the hosts’ only desire is for everyone to have a great time and perhaps sample some new wines and enhance their palates, blind tastings, at someone’s home or in a more sterile professional environment, offer a unique opportunity for one to challenge one’s own sense of smell and taste and sight. That is just what occurred this past weekend at a tasting party in a Santa Clara home.
Twenty enthusiasts gathered at the invitation of the kindest hosts ever. Each couple was asked to bring a Syrah and a dessert or appetizer to share. For the Syrah, country of origin or appellation was not defined so the wines presented originated in San Luis Obispo County, Santa Clara County, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County, Monterey County, all in California and Barossa Valley in Australia. As frequently occurs, some mistook Petite Sirah for the requisite Syrah and therefore two impostors were represented at the event.
Just to add some pedantic confusion, Wikipedia offers the following: “Syrah or Shiraz is a dark-skinned grape grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines. Syrah is used as a varietal and is also blended. Following several years of strong planting, Syrah was estimated in 2004 to be the world’s 7th most grown grape at 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres). DNA profiling in 1999 found Syrah to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a synonym for Durif, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880.” Did that help??
The tens wines fell into a reasonable price range of $15 to $30 and included:
Arrowood, 2006 Syrah, Le Beau Mélange, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County
Francis Ford Coppola, 2008 Neibaum-Coppola Petite Sirah, Plum Label, Sonoma County
J. Lohr Estate, 2009 South Ridge Syrah, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County
lights out, 2008 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia
Longboard, 2006 Syrah, North Coast, Sonoma County
Sarah’s Vineyards, 2004 Syrah, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara
Satori, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah Ha Ha, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara County
St. Somewhere, 2009 Syrah, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County (Castoro Cellars)
Travieso, 2008 Amaranta Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County
Zaca Mesa, 2008 Estate Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County
The surprises for this evening were the wines whose grapes came from inauspicious California origins like Gilroy and the Santa Clara Valley. Although grapes are and have been grown in these geographic areas for decades, they do not typically rise to the top in varietal tastings. Not surprising was the good showing of grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Paso Robles. These two appellations have outstanding histories although often for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes.
The results were unambiguous and almost unanimous as the Travieso 2008 Amaranta Syrah came in as a strong favorite scoring the highest of all entrants. Also scoring well and in second place was the Castoro Cellars, St. Somewhere, 2009 Syrah from Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. Third place was a virtual tie between the Sarah’s Vineyard 2004 Syrah and the Arrowood 2006 Syrah. Each of these presented the characteristic flavor profile, color and tannic structure of a well balanced Syrah. The remaining six wines settled in to a tight pack reminiscent of a NASCAR yellow flag lap.
The fascinating aspect of this event, which is characteristic of blind tastings where price or brand are not a factor, is the good showing of wines from here-to-for little known wineries (like Travieso in Campbell, CA) or under-represented wine regions (like Santa Clara Valley).
Ever since the movie Sideways subverted Merlot and Pinot Noir became the ‘It” wine, Pinot prices have skyrocketed. Syrah (and maybe Malbec) has been poised as the next big wine. This event proved that, at least for now, great tasting Syrah can be found for under $20!