Syrah: New World vs. Old World

New World vs. Old World
I’ve been a big supporter of Californian syrah over the past 6 months or so – bought a lot of bottles and enjoyed my fair share as well. I think it was the classic sour cherry and overall balance of these wines that really did it for me. Friday night I took part in a new world vs. old world syrah tasting at Think Café in Chicago.
An amazing selection of syrah was on display Friday night – ranging from a youthful monster out of Paso Robles to an explosive and thought provoking Cornas from the Northern Rhone (there was even some First Growth Sautuerne to round out the meal).

2000 Saint-Cosme Côte-Rôtie – This was a great wine to start the night off with. The nose was full of bacon fat, tapenade, and sour cherries. This wine was pure silk, with coffee and blackberries throughout. Interestingly, the flavors were subtle, not muted, just reserved and mature. Seemed like this wine was in a good place right now – 90pts.

2003 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie – The nose of this wine reminded me of Sunday morning breakfast. Rich bacony flavors were wrapped around ground coffee, cooked meats, and blackberry jam. Again, outrageous mouthfeel with this wine. The wine itself had lots of blackberries, sour cherries, and dried tobacco flavors with a long finish. A fair amount of burly tannis on this wine suggest it still has a number of years before it plateaus. – 91pts.

1996 Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas – Wow. What a wine. The nose was rocking with massive dried tobacco, lead pencil shavings, and pepper. I cannot say enough about this wine, the body of this wine was full of cooked meats, and pepper…LOTS of pepper. Paired this with a steak and it was absolutely perfect together. The backend of this wine is still youthful, and lasted for nearly a minute. If you have the opportunity to get this wine, jump on it – 95+pts.

1999 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle - The nose took some time to open up and compared to the Cornas was slightly lacking. A fair amount of leather, coffee, and dark, ripe cherry came through – had this along with a steak and it worked really well together. Like the other wines, this had a really nice structure and balance to it – 91pts.

2001 Kongsgaard Syrah Hudson Vineyard – This was the first New World wine of the night and immediately you could tell the difference. Nose had overpowering black indelible marker. Might be a turnoff to some, but I enjoyed it. This was a massive wine full of blueberry reduction sauce. Combine that with other dark fruits and you get a massive, baby of a wine. What really surprised me about this one was the balance. Yes, it was a New World “fruit bomb”, but it also had nice acidity – I think this has a number of years of to continue maturing – 93pts.

2006 Saxum Broken Stones – This was a beast of a wine. The nose was more reminiscent of a cocktail than a wine. It turned me off right from the start. There was massive strawberry reduction sauce nose on this wine, and it was hard for me to pull out anything else. Strawberries, cherries, cassis, dominated this wine. Believe it or not, this has 16.3%alc! A testament to the quality outfit at Saxum, the fruit stood up to the high alcohol level. I’m not sure how I felt about this wine. Compared to the wines earlier in the night, this style seemed too over the top for me – 89pts.

The difference between the Rhone and California has been talked about a lot, and in my mind, is clear. While the Cali wines knocked me over the head with their strawberry, sour cherry, and cassis flavors the bottles from the Rhone were far more subtle in their greatness. There are certain wines that I’ve come across that I classify as “anti-social” wines (sagrantino de maltefalco, nebbiolo, and port) – simply because drinking them brings on a period of introspection. I’m adding Northern Rhone syrah to that list. Each sip I took of these wines told its own story – new flavors kept emerging adding to the overall complexity of the wine. It’s a worthwhile exercise to sit down with a bottle of big Cali syrah and a bottle of syrah from the Rhone. I think you’ll be shocked at how different the wines taste side-by-side. If you’ve done this before, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on how it went – leave a comment below.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Couldn't agree more about the differences between new world and old world Syrah... as a California winemaker who works with the variety, I can't help but be envious of the northern Rhone's terroir every time I open a bottle. Sure we make some great wines here as well, but I haven't yet come across an example that stopped me dead in my tracks for the same reasons. I've certainly been bowled over by some of the massive wines my colleagues produce -- the Kongsgaard being a perfect example -- but they're not particularly to my liking. I enjoy your concept of introspective wines; ones that command my attention and invite contemplation are much to my preference. Subtle nuancing, layers, evolution over time, and above all, finesse and restraint coexisting, in some cases, with power. Vive Cornas!