Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Forgotten Grape: Syrah - Domaine de Chateaumar "Cuvee Vincent" Cotes du Rhone

Syrah is a grape that has never really caught on here in the states. Yes there's a fairly broad category of $30 and up bottlings but there's very few in the everyday wine realm. Those that exist are mostly generic tasting, fruit driven examples that don't really give much in the way of complexity. There are Syrah bottlings from Australia of course, where they call it Shiraz. Some of those inexpensive labels are pretty good, like The Jump Stump and Boxhead to name a couple. And there's the ubiquitous factory wine Yellowtail of course. The shelf space allotted to Syrah in stores here in NJ is incredibly small.

Syrah was once hailed as "the next big thing" to come in the US wine world and it was a proclamation that never happened. Eric Asimov's feature on Syrah for the New York Times in 2010 is an interesting read. Most California Syrahs were dark, dense, overly extracted versions that were heavy and dull - and there's still more than a few of those. Many Cali Syrah producers have changed the way they work with the grape and are striving for more balance in their bottles. And there are the "Rhone Rangers",  producers line Bonny Doon, Edmunds St. John and Ojai who have worked with Syrah for a long time, bottling the best examples we have here in the states. Many other expensive Cali Syrahs like to claim all sorts of "terroir" notes in their aromatic and flavor profiles but in reality, there's still no Syrah on the planet like the ones that come from the northern Rhone appellations of Cote Rotie, Hermiatge, Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph. In general, you can't really understand what good Syrah is meant to be until you throw down more than a few bucks for one of these wines.

However, every once in a while a good, inexpensive version from the southern Rhone shows up on our shores and when one does I find myself going back for more again and again. Syrah is a grape that needs a lot of sun but not excessive heat. It ripens early so it can lose acidity and character if it's left to hang too long. In the northern Rhone, the steep, rocky hillsides limit yield and preserve the special aromatics and flavors that Syrah can present.

Cotes du Rhones are usually blends based on the Grenache grape of course, but this 2010, 100% Syrah bottling of Domaine de Chateaumar from that southern Rhone appellation is a fantastic example of everything that Syrah can achieve, yet in a $12.99 package. It's got those wonderful, gamey Syrah aromas of black cherry fruit, black olive and spice notes with a distinct minerality. It's one of those wines I could sit and sniff all night, trying to define all the nuances. In the mouth it's got a big, fruity mid-palate supported by the olive and spice notes. It finishes medium in length with soft tannins and that mineral spine giving it shape. The vineyards here are sustainably farmed with no herbicides used at all. This beauty is imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, an importer I know nothing about. I will however be seeking out more of their wines. Cheers.

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