This week’s installment of "stuffing your cellar on a Happy Meal budget" takes a look at grapes instead of regions. While both of our chosen grapes, Grenache and Syrah, excel in France's Rhone Valley, they also have found a happy home in many other regions. In Grenache's case, that includes (not surprisingly) its Spanish homeland. Syrah, on the other hand, seems to thrive almost everywhere. I’ve been a big proponent of Syrah and have written many times that it manages to express itself in almost any situation, but what is even more shocking is how well Syrah ages (the flip side of which is how surprisingly crappy Syrah can taste in its youth, but that is fodder for another controversy).
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Syrah just might be one of the least understood grapes out there. It can be such a fruit bomb, either in its youth or throughout its entire Shirazy life. There are basically two styles of Syrah, and like with anything, when you make sweeping generalizations you look like a dope, but, hey -- I’m used to that!
So, for the sake of argument, there are two styles of Syrah – the more savory and lean style favored by most producers in France’s Northern Rhone, and the rich, fruity style characterized by the Shiraz of Australia. I am definitely partial to the more savory style, though the fact that their wines often show poorly in their youth is a penalty against producers who follow this style. Ok, "poorly" might be a bit extreme, but I can’t think of any other grape that goes through such a radical transformation in the cellar. Among the best producers of Syrah in this classic savory style has to be Edmunds St. John, but I’ve already given them enough love in recommending their Gamay, so maybe I shouldn’t follow up with kind words for their awesome Syrah.
Yes, instead let me give a shout out to the team at Ojai who produce distinctive Syrahs that combine the savory tones I look for with wonderfully expressive fruit.
Two to TryJ L Chave St. Joseph Offerus
Yangarra Estate McLaren Vale Shiraz
The flipside to Syrah's meaty, spicy character is Grenache. In fact while most Chateauneuf du Pape is mostly Grenache, Syrah is almost always used to add a bit of depth to the blends. Along with Mourvedre (aka Mataro, aka Monastrel), Grenache, and to a lesser extent Syrah, are the holy trinity of so-called Rhone blends.
Originally from Spain, where it goes by the name Garnacha, Grenache is a heat-loving grape that is one of the workhorses of the world's wine industries. Whether as the backbone for a virtually endless supply of Cotes du Rhone, in Gigondas and Chaeauneuf, or by the jug load of old vine Garnacha, we all enjoy this grape now and again. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we're gonna be filling out our cellars with some. The truth is that very little pure Grenache is produced in an age-worthy style. As Chateauneuf du Pape, and in some GSM blends from Australia or California, it can certainly play a starring role in a wine for the cellar, though, so I suggest we poke around the Southern Rhone for out first pick. The Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf has always been a consistent performer that drinks well in its youth, yet has real staying power.
Two to TryDomaine du Cayron Gigondas
Bodegas Alto Moncayo Campo de Borja Veraton
My Secret Selection: If you want something really exciting for the cellar, try some Mourvedre! This blending grape can produce powerful, structured wine full of game and leather notes that may not be for everyone but really do turn out to be gems in the cellar. You just have to remember to chuck some in there! The Bandols of Domaine Tempier, while not necessarily 100% Mourvedre (there’s some Cinsault, Grenacha, and Carignane in these blends), it really expresses the character of Mourvedre in all its savage glory. These are wines that should be in everybody’s cellar. No kidding.
Syrah & Grenache for the Budget-Conscious CollectorEdmunds St. John
One of California's best producers of classic, savory Syrah.
Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf
A consistent performer that drinks well in its youth, and has awesome staying power in the cellar.