Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Warm/Cool Climate Syrah

Posted by EMark, Dec 15, 2012.

In another thread, I posted about my trip to the California Central Coast wine region.  One of the tasting rooms that I visited was the Ojai Vineyards, and among the wines that we tasted there was a 2006 Syrah.  I happened to overhear one of the other customers remark that 2006 seemed to have a few years of age on it for a current release.  The tasting room host responded that the 2006 Syrah that was being tasted was, in fact, a current release.  He continued to say that Syrah needs a few years to really show well. So, the Ojai Vineyards allows them to age before releasing them.

Well, nothing that he said seemed surprising or unusual to me.  However, on the counter right next to me was a display of a low-production 2009 Syrah—noticeably, less age than the one that was being tasted—that was available for sale, although, not included in the day’s tasting.  When the host came around to us to move us along to the next wine, I asked him about it.  The answer was that the 2009, which was more costly than the 2006, was grown in a cool climate vs. the 2006 which was grown in a hotter climate.  The cool climate Syrahs can benefit from aging, but the warmer climate ones really need it.

I have heard discussion of people here on the Forum preferring cool climate Syrahs, but I had not heard about the cool climate versions being less needy of aging.  Did this tasting room host speak the truth, or did he just give me a made up answer?  I look to the collective wisdom of the Forum for insight.



Reply by outthere, Dec 15, 2012.

I think he's pullin yer chain eMark. I'm a Syrah fanatic and both warm and cool climate Syrah benefit from bottle age.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 15, 2012.

Yeah, that's a little counter-intuitive, especially considering cool climate Syrah's tend to be more acidic and age-able.

Reply by napagirl68, Dec 16, 2012.

I think they got it backwards...

Reply by GregT, Dec 16, 2012.

What the others said. Don't believe everything that they tell you in the tasting room - many times they have no idea what they're talking about.

In this case they got it wrong twice.

2006 had a cold winter and then lots of rain and flooding in Napa and because of the cold spring, late budbreak - in the Central Coast it happened in late March. Overall one of the coolest vintages, if not the coolest, of the decade.  2009 OTOH, was not only a textbook vintage, it was a huge vintage for many of the wine regions.

Secondly, warmer weather produces higher sugar levels, lower acidity overall, and riper tannins. So all the things that people think are necessary for aging a wine are not in place. Cooler weather does the opposite. You have lower pH, more tannins, and less sugar. So the cooler N. Rhone Syrah for example, tends to age better than the hotter, warmer, Barossa Shiraz, and the wines from the N. Rhone have a reputation for aging that is far better than those of the South Rhone.

Since aging isn't completely understood, that's not to say you CAN'T age a wine from warmer vintage/climate, etc., but for the most part, that's not the conventional wisdom.

I think the guy either didn't know (most likely) or he was deliberately misleading, or he simply misunderstood what someone in the winery had told him.  If the wines were from different vineyards, that could have confused him.

Reply by EMark, Dec 16, 2012.

Thank you, folks, for your thoughts.  It sounded somewhat suspicious to me and I am, in fact, used to having sales reps (and, who's kidding who, that is what tasting room folks are) respond to questions with whatever comes to mind--or whatever they have been trained to say.

To clarify a bit, the 2006 "warm climate" wine was made from grapes grown in the White Hawk Vineyard in the Los Alamos Hills in Santa Barbara County.  The 2009 "cool climate" was from a different vineyard, but in all honesty I do not remember which one. 

Like GregT indicated above, I understand very little about the aging process.  It is, certainly, a complicated process.  In a case like this I should have relied on one of my time tested philosophies:  For every difficult, complicated question, there is always a very simple wrong answer.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 17, 2012.

I'm completely in agreement that they got it wrong.  You can find all-Syrah wines from the S. Rhone, where it's warmer, and they are just Cotes du Rhones level--not particularly age-worthy and not held onto before release.  Cool weather wines are the ones to age.  That's why Cote Rotie and Hermitage are the temples of Syrah. 

Sadly, lots of the tasting wine personnel mislead novice tasters this way.  You, on the other hand, were suspicious. 

My own opinion about Syrah is to look at what OT is buying from California, then try to piggyback on that.  Hasn't steered me wrong yet.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 17, 2012.

True, there are cool sites for Syrah all around CA, though probably only a few real true sweet spots, and this is not just people picking early. Then there's plenty in a riper style that's so tannic and oaky, it still needs some time to come together. Maybe this best describes WSWOTY - Shafer Relentless.

Reply by GregT, Dec 17, 2012.

What's funny is recently I tasted through the Donelan wines. They used to be Pax and those were done in a big, ripe style. That partnership broke up and Pax started making Wind Gap wines in a completely different style - much leaner, but still focused on specific vineyards. Donelan kept the Pax name and style but eventually decided to use his own name instead of his former partner's and his winemaker backed off the ripeness, used the same vineyards, and is doing something between Wind Gap and the old Pax, which I believe is going to be the new name of Wind Gap.

Nomenclature aside, they are really good wines in general and made from the same vineyards and by the same winemakers but in very different styles.

Reply by outthere, Dec 17, 2012.

Actually Wind Gap is staying put but Pax is bringing the PAX brand back now that he has gained ownership of the trademark back from Joe Donelan. He'll be doing both those along with continuing Agharta.

joe is doing a nice job with the Donelan lineup and his new winemaker, Tyler Thomas, has his own vision of what Syrah and terroir are and how the two produce great wines. Unfortunately for me Joe thinks very highly of his wines and prices them too high when I can find great value for 1/3 his prices.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 17, 2012.

Aside from Cote Rotie and Hermitage (which has become a glamour region in the N Rhone), I've got my eye on St. Joseph for the highly esteemed 2010 vintage. There are no glamour/luxury cuvees in Saint Joseph for Saint Cosme and Chave so I have my eyes set on those to pick up down the road. 

I'm open to other ideas, especially if anyone knows of any "value" wines in Hermitage, not Crozes.

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