In coordination with Snooth's Global Tasting initiative I scheduled our Panel Tasting Program blind event this past week as a focus on Syrah, California Syrah to be specific.
With every PTP there tends to be a few wines at both end of the spectrum that are really divisive. This weeks event was no different and in fact several of the wines really polarized the group with people voting for a certain wine as either their favorite or their least favorite without much middle ground. A surprising result, especially since I was one who named this wine my #1!
But that is the way things go sometimes and why it is so important to assemble a panel with diverse interests and palates. One lesson I hope people come away from after participating in or reading about our tastings is that there simply is no “right” palate. Everyone needs to come to their own conclusions as to how the wines taste to them. That is simply the only thing that really counts. Relying on critics can be helpful, especially when one is only just getting in to wine, but once you've found your style finding additional wines that excite you is something only you can do.
It can be argued that this is exactly why professional critics are needed, they bring some consistency to the marketplace. Of course that is simply not true. They may bring the consistency of their views but as this panel has shown that will only correlate with a segment of the market, and another equally large segment might very well have diametrically opposed views.
So what can one do, well read as much as possible, find people whose palates seem to match well with yours, and try, try, try! Snooth Panel Tasting Program - where we try, try, try.
You might notice that this weeks PTP photos are of the bottles after the tasting. Just for fun I thought we might want to illustrate which bottles had seemn the most demand and whether that actually correlated to our most highly rated bottles. The answers are inconclusive but it was a fun excersize none-the-less.
Mike – Wine enthusiast
Cheryl – Wine enthusiast
Greg – Wine professional
Justin – Wine professional
Scott – Wine professional
Mark – Wine enthusiast
Dave – Wine enthusiast
And me your humble scribe.
Flight 1 – postcards from Napa
1 - 2006 Neyers Napa Valley Ca – Hudson Vineyards Syrah 14.1% $40
Groups #8, my #8
There was a fair amount of consensus on this wine with virtually everyone commenting on the growing sweetness of the wine as it breathed. Greg Justin and Scott all felt that it turned too sweet with Justin initially liking “the sweet blackberry nose” but being turned off by the wine turning “syrupy and bitter on the finish”. For Greg this wine “went from being my favorite of the flight to least favorite… it turns too sweet on the finish.” Cheryl and Mark were the wines biggest proponents and while Cheryl felt it turned “a little sweeter with air” it also become “ fruitier with nice wood, dark fruits and a little pepper.” Mark felt the heat “ took a bit away from it” but noted that it was “potent with ripe cherry, licorice and leather.” I found it polished and a bit simple but well balanced.
2 - 2004 Burgess Napa Valley Syrah 14.7% $20
Groups #4, my #6
This wine was a bit more divisive with Mike finding “a little candy on the nose but the palate is nice with nice structure, red fruits and vanilla notes. A fairly nice wine” Scott also found “forward aromas of black berry, vanilla and cola”, but thought the wine, while “ texturally very smooth is linear and not very deep, pleasant but not much to it.” Both Justin and Greg noted a bit of an herbal note on the nose and commented on the tannins sticking out. This was a bit simple but I found it to be well built to highlight the bright, pure fruit.
3 - 2005 LaTour Vineyards Napa Valley Ca Syrah 14.8% $26.50
Groups #10 my # 9
This wine was a bit of an odd bird with its powerful, dark, earthy character. Cheryl “didn't care for this, its earthy and barnyardy, green in the middle and drying.” Dave found similar traits of “mushrooms, and earth” and Commented on “the tannic structure but this opens nicely with black cherries.” Mark “thought the nose was light but this has a rough bite of tannins followed up by medicinal, herbaceous eucalyptus, menthol notes in the mouth.” Scott also found “medicinal, chemically, eucalyptus flavors with dark fruits and a little earth” on the nose and felt the “flavors were smoky cherry with a white pepper finish.” I found this to be pretty aggressively styled and will benefit from some age to mellow the tannins and allow the wine to fully integrate but it is a dark, earthy style that is not typical for California.
Flight 2 - A mixed bag of the World's Syrah
4 - 2006 Alesia Santa Lucia Highlands Ca Fairview Ranch Vineyard Syrah 14.25% $60
Group # 7, my #1
This was the most polarizing wine ever in one of our blind tastings. Greg felt “ far and away the best of the flight with a spicy earthy nose” while Scott felt this was the “ worst wine by far, heavy sulfur on the nose and more sulfur on the palate.” Dave pretty much shared Scott's take finding “ vinegar, sulfur and cat pee” on the nose but finding that the wine offered “ dark ripe fruit with coffee and chocolate notes.” Mark also found some redeeming features in the wine, it's “bright red fruit, huge acidity, medicinal and meaty” flavors with an “ earthy, mushroomy finish.” I thought this was just great, elegant, varietal pure and correct, lively and complex. Sure it's got a lot of acid but isn't that what we want in a wine? A polarizing wine indeed!
5 - 2006 Snoqualmie Columbia Valley Washington State Syrah 13.9% - $12
Groups #12, my #12
And just to keep thing unpredictable here we had unanimous consistency. Mike found the wine to be “very simple” which was pretty much the most complimentary thing anyone had to say. Cheryl noted that it smelled “like Mattel in a very bad way”, recalling the aroma of a particular era of Barbie doll, which lead to a brief discussion on which G I Joe would have been comparable, a discussion far more interesting than the wine! Justin had his politician's cap on noting, “ there is nothing obnoxious here, some reduced flavors with a soft mouthfeel.” I found this to be insipid and amorphous. Nuff said.
6 - 2006 Luca Laborde Double Select Syrah Uco Valley Mendoza, Argentina 13.9% $25
Groups #2, my #4
Here we had a fairly broad range of opinions and this finished in second place based on it's showing as a few folks second and third place wine. It did not receive any first place votes so it sort of snuck in the back door. Mike was not a fan finding that this smelled “ like cough syrup” and noting “there's not much good to find in it”. Greg Noted it was “ big, sweet, extracted and woody” Perhaps a better review but still not complimentary. Dave enjoyed the “ simple aromas of toasted red fruit” and found the wine to be “ very balanced and chewy with notes of white pepper and blueberry and a great finish.” Scott also found a lot to like noting “ there are nice red fruits here. This has best balance of the wines so far, nice full flavor, balance of dark fruit, oak, forest floor and a fairly lengthy finish,” I found this to be elegant, complex and complete. A well crafted surprise!
Flight 3 - Santa Ynez Valley
7 - 2006 Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Estate Syrah 15.1% $30
Group's # 5, my #5
This wine also had some divergent views but perhaps less so. Scott felt this was part of the “Australian flight!” and did not enjoy the “ sweet, candied cough syrup” quality of the wine or “it's alcoholic finish.' On the other hand Cheryl “loved everything about this wine!' It's bright and sweet and reminds me of Watermelon Bonny Bell lip gloss!” Mike thought, “there's a lot happening here, it's a little awkward but it has a decent mouthfeel and nice, dusty black cherry fruit.” Justin found the nose to be “bright and fruity” but thought the palate “ was a bit watery and lacked concentration with a fruit rind bitterness on the end.” To me this was proto-typical California Syrah and well done at that but the acid was a touch out of whack.
8 - 2005 Firestone Santa Ynez Valley California Syrah 13.5% $18
Group's #11, my #11
This fell to the bottom of the heap based more on the relative strength of the other wines than through any fault of it's own. As Dave put it “ this feels diluted and just fizzles on the palate.” Greg was more complimentary noting “sweet vanilla and wood on the nose then a slightly acidic feel but this is nice and easy going.” Mark found the nose to be “tangy and a bit hot” which he also found on the palate but “with a nice leather character, the acids are refreshing and the long finish has some nice pepper. This is good.” Scott felt this was another “hit you over the head with sweet fruit” wine. He found “ blueberry pie, orange rind and a hint of rubber “ aromas with some “stewed tomatoes” on the palate feeling that there “was a lot up front but not enough in the back.” In contrast Mike found this to be “ the most elegant of the flight with black cherry, bacon and pepper on the nose and a nice dustiness on the finish. I like it.” I enjoyed the flavors of this wine but the structure felt very disjointed and left me flat.
9 - 2004 Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Ca Estate Syrah 14.5% $20
Group's # 3, my #3
Initially Greg “disliked this wine. It smelled of gasoline, really reductive and a little hot” but as Mike noted “this came around in a big way.” Justin noted, “while this was a little funny at first it shows the most typicity and while it's a touch oaky and alcoholic it has the best structure and concentration of the flight.” Cheryl never got pas the “definition of bad nose” though she did find it “much better on the palate though it was watery in the middle and not very well knit together.” Dave found “strawberries, meat, herbal and burnt rubber notes” on the nose and though this was “kind of balanced if a little woody.” I thought this was youthful, balanced, complex and among the most interesting wines of the night, and a great value!
10 - 2006 Dry Stack Cellars(aka Grey Stack) Dry Stack Vineyard Bennett Valley Ca– Marie's Block Syrah 15.5% $40
Group's #6, my #2
Here we had another divisive wine, what a surprise! Mike “hated it! It's over-extracted beyond comprehension, I couldn't even drink it.” Scott found “ a touch of sulfur, the sage and forest floor” notes on the nose and felt ‘ the flavors are almost over the top and there's lots of alcohol that really take over the second half.” Or as Cheryl put it “ that's a drown your sorrows wine!” Mark also found this “ extremely alcoholic, it took over and hit me on the head overpowering the medicinal, sharp, leather flavors.” Greg on the other hand commented on the “ meaty, spicy nose, I really like that note of clove here.” Justin found this “weird and exotic” and felt the “fruit flavors were really out there with marzipan, wild cherry candy and cotton candy notes.” This is an extreme style but I found the depth and balance bode well for positive development. I can't drink a lot of this or have it frequently but this was some well made power Syrah!
11 - 2006 Grey Stack– Dry Stack Vineyard – Bennett Valley Ca The Narcissist Syrah 15.8% $48
Group's #9, my #10
While from the same winemaker and vintage this really presented a different side to California Syrah. While Cheryl felt “ this didn't have a lot going on” she did not it was ‘easy like Sunday morning”. Greg found the nose to be “meaty and baconny, it even had a pine needle quality to it.” Scott also found bacon on the nose But with “ floral notes, cola, cherry and some vanilla.” Mike found this to be “smooth on the palate with nice cherry and blueberry fruit, nothing objectionable.” To me this was a bit flabby and over-oaked with not much Syrah character and way too much wood spice.
12 - 2006 Four Vines Santa Barbara County Ca Los Alamos Vineyard- One Tree Hill Block Syrah 14.8% $36
Group's #1, my # 7
Well we had to have a winner and this was it! Dave found the nose “medicinal but natural with violet, lilac and herbs. It felt really natural to me and fruity with cherry, cola and spice flavors.” Mark felt the “ lower alcohol helped the bright, medicinal nose with notes of licorice and red berries. It was crisp on the palate with black pepper and anise on the finish that carried through from the mid-palate.” Mike also found this to be “very medicinal but it's not a negative element. It's elegant and well structured, rich and chewy with a lot going for it.” Justin thought it was “pretty full bodied with walnut and cherry flavors, a little leather, some bell peppers but it kind of tailed off after awhile.” Greg enjoyed the “ super-ripe fruit, vegetal notes on the finish and lingering smoky flavor.” Scott was the lone dissenter in the group adding, “ I really didn't like this, it smells wooly and of camphor. That chemical, medicinal thing followed through on the palate with brown sugar and cherry flavors. This was very disjointed. “ I sort of agreed. This was not my style of wine at all, too ft and creamy for me, but it was well made and intense without really being over the top, for California Syrah.
Gregory Dal Piaz is the Community Manager at Snooth, an avid Wine Geek with a passion for things Italian, and a long suffering Mets fan.