Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Is it time for the Tasting of Tain? 2014

Original post by Richard Foxall, Mar 21.

I love N. Rhone Syrah.  It's my favorite red wine in France.  But the acreage of the region is so small and the area that provide its best wines even smaller, that prices have hit the roof.  Sure, there are a few St. Josephs and Crozes-Hermitages that come in around $25, but those are either made for earlier drinking and a lot less thrilling with age (St. Joseph) or widely variable and more like some of the fruit-driven Aussie or Central Coast Shiraz/Syrah wines.  Not always as bombastic, but not like the wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotie.  A few years ago, I bought Colombier's appellation labeled Hermitage for under $40.  It's not the most well-known producer and it is an appellation wine, but keep in mind that Colombier is family owned, gets high praise from RP and all of Hermitage is small and somewhat homogeneous.  It seemed a fair bit of money, but a fair price at the time.  And the wine was delicious. 

Today I got an email from HartDavisHart touting N. Rhones and only one was under $100.  Somehow, a St. Joseph for $60 didn't seem like a bargain.  All the C-R and Hermitage wines were over $125.  Some of these were highly collectible or had significant age on them, but those bottles were between several hundred and thousands of dollars.  Now you're getting into the Latour/Petrus investment range (and maybe the DRC counterfeiting range).  I feel lucky that I got to try a well-aged Hermitage last October when I met David Parker, CEO of Benchmark Wine Group.  Unfortunately, that's probably the only way I'll ever be able to drink one of those, unless I want to cancel my family's summer vacation.

When Bordeaux first growths started resting on their laurels and pricing themselves out of reach, Spurrier invited the California upstarts to bring their Cabernet to the party.  And while those California wines, and a few even more expensive cult wines since, aren't as cheap as they were, you can still imagine drinking them, not just waiting to cash out when the market gets even crazier. 

Is it time for a tasting of Tain to see how the best California Syrah stacks up?  I see a couple problems.  First, the whole "Judgment of..." format has been done to death and has less shock value and even less credibility.  Second, the California wine business has expanded greatly with so many players it would be hard to choose.  As a subset of that concern, Syrah in California (or Washington) is more dispersed than Cab was in the 1970s, with many small producers making the better bottles.  Third, California Syrah doesn't seem to have coalesced around one style. That can also be said to a degree for the Rhone, but the Hermitage and C-R appellations (and to some degree Cornas) have a pretty fundamental character of savory, meaty wines with strong but refined tannic structure and dark fruits, violets, and pretty well defined secondary characteristics. Of course, there's always the question of who participates and whether this kind of exercise ever makes sense.

What seems clear is that some group of producers makes really good Syrah in Northern California along those lines; if there was to be a "Tasting of Tain," or "Judgment of Sonoma," who would you enter from the West Coast side?  I'd be interested in hearing from people with a good deal of experience with both N. Rhone and US Syrah, but I'm also interested in what people would like to taste if they were given the opportunity to try some of those unapproachably expensive Rhones.

Replies

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 25.

Of course, Emark.  Who can afford them?  That's the point I'm trying to make.  I think there's lots of quality--that '89 Jaboulet Hermitage that David Parker brought to dinner was great--but are they worth it? 

Here's the total of my N. Rhone holdings:

Pretty much all "value" bottles.  The Cote-Roties probably set me back under $50, which is basically getting you "appellation" wines from less well known makers.  The Cornas was purchased opportunistically when the importers had sales (the Stephane Robert), thru discounters (the Alain Voge--which now sells for 2x what I paid) or from up and coming producers right before the scores hit (the Durands).  I think decent Cornas is now going to be over $50 for basic bottles like these, and it will remain cheaper than Hermitage and C-R.  These are like 5th growths or Cru Bourgeois from the Medoc--so why wouldn't the better American examples compete with the Guigal Cote Brune et Blonde and the LaLaLas?

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 25.

Why, what's wrong with these prices?

My next question being have the Chinese moved from Bordeaux (which  they were still fixated on when I took a hiatus from the marketplace), via Burgundy, now to be starting on the Rhone?

From HDH


Red Rhône Wine Rating Price

1967 Côte Rôtie, La Mouline, Guigal

-

$2,000 / bottle

1982 Hermitage, J. L. Chave

93 WA

$400 / bottle

1983 Hermitage, La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aîné

16.5 JR

$280 / 
magnum

1988 Hermitage, J. L. Chave

94 IWC

$350 / bottle

1990 Hermitage, La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aîné

100 WA

$650 / bottle

1995 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Château de Beaucastel (owc)

96 WA

$350 / bottle

1995 Hermitage, J. L. Chave

95 WA

$320 / bottle

1996 Saint-Joseph Rouge, Les Granits, Chapoutier

93 WA

$80 / bottle

2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée da Capo, Domaine du Pegau

100 WA

$480 / bottle

2000 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée da Capo, Domaine du Pegau

100 WA

$3,600 / 
methuselah (6L)

2000 Ermitage Rouge, Le Méal, Chapoutier (owc)

95 WA

$1,700 / 
methuselah (6L)

2000 Hermitage, J. L. Chave (owc)

96 WA

$1,900 / 
jeroboam (3L)

2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Réservée, Domaine du Pegau

94 IWC

$1,400 / case

2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Réservée, Domaine du Pegau (owc)

94 IWC

$1,900 / 
salmanazar (9L)

2003 Côtes du Rhône, Guigal

88 WA

$12 / bottle

2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Château de Beaucastel, [Cuvee Unique]

98+ WA

$400 / bottle

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Janasse (owc)

100 WA

$3,660 / 
6 magnums

2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Janasse (owc)

99 WA

$1,700 / 
6 magnums

2009 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de Fontbonau

90 WA

$25 / bottle

2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Hautes Brusquieres, Cuvée Speciale, Domaine de la Charbonnière

96 WA

$60 / bottle

2010 Hermitage, J. L. Chave

100 WA

$425 / bottle

 

I'm not as chuffed about what someone (as in Parker and his acolytes leading the Chinese et al. by the nose) might want to do to LaLaLa prices, as to my old buddy Chave.  ;-(

And apologies for the nasty formatting. The table didn't transfer well to the Snooth editor...

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Reply by outthere, Mar 25.

Ridiculous!

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Reply by Lucha Vino, Mar 25.

I would love to join in the fun.  Do you have dates in mind?  I have a magnum of 2009 Halcon that I bought on Berserker day in 2012.  I would also be happy to contribute some Washington Syrah to the party.

Cheers

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Reply by gregt, Mar 26.

I was thinking more that it's time for a professional like Spurrier to take something like this on, although the pros ignore these kinds of things now, methinks.

!!!!!!

Fox, I'm offended. As I mentioned, I've done these Syrah tastings many times and usually everyone was a "pro" in that they were in the wine business as retailers, importers, sommelliers, and writers (not bloggers)!

The thing that happened with the Paris 1976 tasting was that CA was not yet respected on the world stage after Prohibition. In France the tasting didn't mean so much outside of a small circle and the embarrassed participants, but in the US it set of the industry.

Today there's nothing comparable because so much good wine is produced all over. Now, rather than argue that a particular place can't produce wine, the argument is that the wine isn't as good because it's not a "food" wine or some other such crap.

Great Syrah is produced in the N. Rhone and even in Pic St. Loup, but in CA good to great Syrah is produced in Sonoma, Carneros, Napa, Santa Barbara, Mendocino, etc., not to mention many places in Washington. And from nearly nothing it's like the fifth most planted grape in Spain these days and it's done well in parts of South Africa and Chile. And from different regions in Australia there are Syrahs that can rival those of the Rhone and let's not forget that Austria and Hungary both produce excellent Syrah in several areas. And let's not forget Italy, which can pretty much produce good wine from any grape.

It's truly one of my favorite grapes, may even be my fave, but the N. Rhone is a small place in comparison with many of these other regions and it doesn't have the mind-share dominance that Bordeaux had in the 1970's.

No reason not to do the tasting though! It's a good excuse to drink a lot of Syrah from all over. Depending on when you want to do this, I may be able to make some arrangements to participate. It's just really hard to travel in the near future. Of course, if someone wants to head south . . .

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 26.

Hear hear!  ;-)

Kindof like when a business partner of mine said to me back 25 yrs ago, or so: "What are we waiting for? We are our parents now. There's no excuse for us not to do what we want to, should and need to do."

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 26.

Yes, a date and venue would be key.

So far, OT has offered to host. I really think these tastings, as we did at Fox's last year hit another level when someone opens up their home. So if nobody else is offering, then all we have to do is set the date. I'm probably unavailable for something like this until July.

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Reply by EMark, Mar 26.

Mark's Syrahs

BEDROCK/NORTH COAST '12
APSARA/CARNEROS/LAS MADRES VINEYARD '11
APSARA/CARNEROS/LAS MADRES VINEYARD '11
BONNY DOON VINEYARD/SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS '92
HALCON/ALTURAS/YORKVILLE HIGHLANDS '10
HALCON/ALTURAS/YORKVILLE HIGHLANDS '11
HALCON/ALTURAS/YORKVILLE HIGHLANDS '11
HALCON/ALTURAS/YORKVILLE HIGHLANDS '11
KEENAN/NAPA VALLEY '09
KEENAN/NAPA VALLEY '10
LAGIER MEREDITH/MOUNT VEEDER/NAPA VALLEY '07
LAGIER MEREDITH/MOUNT VEEDER/NAPA VALLEY '11
LEWIS CELLARS/ALEC'S BLEND/NAPA VALLEY '10
MELVILLLE/VERNA'S ESTATE '11
OJAI VINEYARD/PRESIDIO VINEYARD/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY '08
OJAI VINEYARD/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY '10
OJAI VINEYARD/STA RITA HILLS/MELVILLE VINEYARDS '08
   
QUPE/BIEN NACIDO VINEYARD/SANTA MARIA VALLEY '07
QUPE/SAWYER LINDQUIST VINEYARD/EDNA VALLEY '09
ROCKPILE/MADRONE SPRING VINEYARD/ROCKPILE/SONOMA COUNTY '10
ROCKPILE/MADRONE SPRING VINEYARD/ROCKPILE/SONOMA COUNTY '11
STOLPMAN/SYRAH ORIGINALS/SANTA YNEZ VALLEY '08
ZACA MESA/MESA RESERVE/SANTA YNEZ VALLEY '09
ZACA MESA/SANTA YNEZ VALLEY '06

 

Not really sure that Bonny Doon is really there.

 

and N Rhones.  Oops, make that "Rhone" (singular):

SAINT-JOSEPH SAINT COSME '10

 

I have no idea what possessed me to buy that.

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Reply by outthere, Mar 27.

"I'm probably not available for something like this until July"

I'm booked solid till July as well. We have a wedding coming up in late June and my services are needed in preparation. May Saturdays are filled with wine and food events and a College graduation.

July - October are prime weather months up here so pick away but aim towards a Saturday in July or August. Once we come to an agreement we can start talking about what we are going to pair this with.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 27.

Mid summer sounds great to me. Mid winter too, actually.

I don't have that much because we usually just drink it fast. From 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2009 I have some Cayuse, Fisher, HdV, Ojai and Pax, from the late 1980s I have some Edmund St John, from 2005 I have some Spanish that wasn't imported but that's pretty good and now has a home, also some from Pic St Loup, and from the 1990s I have some N. Rhones, mostly from Cote Rotie but from elsewhere too, from Jamet, Chapoutier, Guigal, etc. And let's not forget Australia - I just don't know off the top what I have.

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Reply by napagirl68, Mar 27.

It’s easier to get rid of a case of syphilis than it is to get rid of a case of Syrah

Ok, not fair, I know.  I do like SOME syrahs.. but most, even cool weather, are so one dimensional to my palate.  JMO.  I know you guys love it.. I have liked a few, but the fruit kills me, even in the cool weather... I have had many syrahs.  Most were from warmer areas like Livermore and Amador cty.  But I have had a few cooler syrahs.. Carlisle, Balletto.  I just find them a flash in the pan, so to speak.  Maybe you get that pepper, then the fruit and then done.   too anticlimatic for me.  Even with Zins, which I typically abhor.. I can find a nice, cool climate, multilayered example I can manage to enjoy...  I have yet to find that in a syrah, which I tend to find too mellow, fruity, sometimes very briny, to enjoy without a very specific food pairing.  Meh.

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 27.

I'm not as fond of Syrah as most here...and can kind of relate to the one dimensional thing, though I find that one dimension to often times be pretty damn good!

That said my favorites have been from the northern Rhone and they had a hint of green to the fruit, freshness is a huge key for me. 

Glad our schedules seem to align.

How's July 19th?

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Reply by napagirl68, Mar 27.

More for you guys!  :-) :-)

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Reply by outthere, Mar 27.

Come on NG, i could convert you. I know what you like (wink wink)

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 27.

That makes GregT and NG polar opposites.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 27.

NG and Jon - I think you've tried the wrong Syrah. It's far more different and reflective of its origins than something like Cab, which always tastes like Cab, or Pinot Noir, which always tastes like Pinot Noir. At least to my thinking.

Zin is more like Syrah to me, and Zin is grown only in a very restricted area. That's changing as there are a few from Australia, Austria, Italy and elsewhere, but mostly it's grown only in some pockets of CA, although even there, as you point out, it can come in different styles.

Syrah more so, maybe only because it's more widely grown. Syrah is much more of a chameleon than many grapes - it ranges from big, ripe and sweet, to massive and tannic but not so sweet, to meaty and smoky and more medium bodied, to lighter and crisp and peppery. And in CA alone these days, Syrah is coming in many different styles. I don't know what the winemaker calls it, but I'm not sure I'd put Carlisle into the cooler climate category, at least style wise. It's good enough but doesn't seem "cool climate" in the same way as something like say, Arnot-Roberts or Failla or even Peay's. And then there's a lot up in WA that's different again. And of course from France, it comes in many styles.

It's even grown right outside of Ribera del Duero and I'm sure you wouldn't say that's one-dimensional! In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone could identify it blind as Syrah, and if one wants to talk about terroir, that's the conversation - it should trump the grape and the winemaking.

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Reply by outthere, Mar 27.

"NG and Jon - I think you've tried the wrong Syrah."

Amen to that!

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 27.

However, I'll freely admit there may be no better pair for steak or red meat than Syrah. As long as we have some around for the tasting you won't hear me complaining ;)

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Reply by napagirl68, Mar 28.

Ok, so here are my reasons for not being enthralled:

Hate Livermore and Amador syrah (which you guys would hate too, but more available to me)

Even many Paso Syrahs are "hot"... too much fruit, too much ETOH.

Even my fave Santa Barbara Syrah did not bowl me over after I sourced it (after tasting at Rhone rangers)

I went to Paul Marcus (bout 2yrs ago), spent an INORDINATE amount of time with a really sweet guy, talking syrah- he spent an HOUR with me.  He swore, based on my preference for white pepper, cooler climate, that I would LOVE the expensive French wine I bought... meh.  want my money back.

Did like Balletto and Carlisle, but would take a pinot or cab franc over those any day....

On a positive note, I have enjoyed very much Big Basin Vineyards Mandala and Rattlesnake Syrahs.. was from a few years back.  I have not tasted recent offerings tho.

Bottom Line.. if I am gonna spend bucks, I spend them (mostly) on Pinot... Sonoma pinot for the most part.  When you find a great pinot, like the Wilde Farm, the acidity is perfect, and you don't need a charred to death piece of meat, or spaghetti sauce in order to pair.

If you think I am missing something, send me details, please...  would love to hear about complex syrah, if it exists. Not holding breath.

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Reply by napagirl68, Mar 28.

That makes GregT and NG polar opposites

No surprise there, JD.  The man HATES pinot!  Puts it down like a red-headed stepchild!! 



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