Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Two Faces Of Syrah: Cimarone 3CV Syrah 2010

Some people are confused by Syrah, The Two-Sided Grape.  The difference between warm-climate and cool-climate Syrah can be as marked as the difference between sweet and dry Riesling, which is another grape with a bit of an identity crisis.

Syrahs from cooler climates are typically more restrained, less ripe, lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than their cousins from the warmer vineyards.  A Syrah from a cool-climate vineyard might taste lean and peppery, while one from a warmer vineyard could be lush and smoky, showcasing extremely ripe fruit.

Is it this dichotomy that created confusion in the consumer’s mind and kept Syrah from becoming the hugely popular grape many wine experts felt it was supposed to become?  Some winemakers joke that it's easier to get rid of a social disease than a case of Syrah.  Well, I can speak to the Syrah issue - it wouldn't last too long at all around my place, and I say that without any confusion at all.

Rieslings often have a “sweetness meter” on the label somewhere, to show the consumer where the wine falls on the scale of sweet-to-dry.  Why not put something on a Syrah label to show from which type of climate the grapes hail?

Or course, there will always be exceptions to the rules.  Cimarone’s Three Creek Vineyard in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA brought that point home.  A sample was provided to me.

Located in the warm eastern end of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, Three Creek Vineyard’s Syrah grapes make the 3CV Syrah 2010 act like it’s trying to play both ends against the middle.  It certainly does not lack ripeness, but there is a lot more going on than a simple bomb of fruit can offer.

Syrah was once the majority holder of space in Three Creek Vineyard, but its share decreased when it was discovered what a good place Happy Canyon is for the grape varieties of Bordeaux.

3CV Syrah is a dark ruby color with some purple around the edge.  Lifting it to my nose, the aromas take me aback.  Expecting a ripe and lush warm-climate Syrah, I am greeted by the scent of berries trodden into the floor of a pine forest.  Black pepper and a funky herbal note are right up front in both the bouquet and the palate.  A memory of black cherry cough drops lingers on the finish.

Its alcohol content is a lofty 14.5%, but its acidity sparkles and the tannins are soft.  So, what would one put on the label?  It’s from a warm-climate vineyard, but it shows the complexity of a cool-climate wine.  It may be a crazy, mixed up kid, but at $16 the 3CV Syrah 2010 is hard to beat for value.

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