Yes, this is a real cork from a bottle of wine. The Writer’s Block series from Steele.
Training myself how to taste and enjoy wine began somewhat differently than the often systematic approach most people take when trying to educate themselves with something new.
Embracing wine usually begins with the enjoyment of soft, fruity whites. Somewhere down the road, experimentation with some light-hearted reds follows. At the end of the spectrum, many wine enthusiasts come to enjoy the bolder reds and are able to vacillate back and forth among the many varietal offerings. This learning process is a natural progression.
However, since I tend to jump into things feet first, I went from zero to sixty in terms of wine tasting experience overnight. One day I happily sipped my White Zinfandel in a glass with ice (OMG) to drinking a very big and bold red Zinfandel with nothing in between. I never looked back. I loved it and had a real taste for the boldness Red Zin had to offer. (Note…White and Red Zinfandel are made from the same grape, however, Red Zin is fermented on the grapes skins, giving it color and its bold flavors.)
During my carefree White Zin days (about fifteen years ago) I didn’t even know why wine’s vintage year was important. My White Zin never had a year on the bottle. Why did any wine need one?
I look back now and laugh. I never imagined I would become so fascinated in the chemistry of wine I would seek out getting a degree in enology and viticulture and plant a vineyard myself. We really never know where life will take us.
As I relished in my love for big, red Zins I didn’t realize I had skipped so many of the amazing wine varietals in between. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and of course the love of my life Pinot Noir. I had skipped every rung in the ladder to the bolder Zinfandel and have since been climbing back down.
While I do feel Pinot Noir is the quintessential food wine I do enjoy a good Cabernet Sauvignon with an aged rib-eye steak. However, as of late, Syrah has been my choice when it comes to any type of grilled meat.
I have found Syrah’s tannins much softer than Cabernet Sauvignon not to mention its bright acidity (it’s more acidic than Cabernet or Merlot) giving Syrah the texture it needs to balance out the richness of grilled food (especially steak).
When eating a rich steak you want the acidity of the wine to explode down the middle of your tongue. You want a wine that lives large on depth and complexity. Syrah delivers that philosophy.
My favorite Syrahs have been coming out of Washington State, specifically the Yakima and Walla Walla Valley. The Syrahs from these regions are so stylistically different in expression of the grape, one can see how Syrah dramatically reflects the terroir in which it is planted.
The Yakima Valley is a geologic wonder-zone, the vines thriving in mostly basalt soils as well as pebbles and loam. All conditions derived from the proximity of volcanic activity and floods from the Artic Circle during the Ice Age.
In Walla Walla conditions also mirror that of Northern Rhone in France where Syrah is the principle grape in wines. Not only do these two areas share close latitude lines with the Rhone but Walla Walla has the same stony riverbeds commonly found in that part of France.
What’s interesting to me is how the Washington Syrahs are very fruit-forward but also show-off an earthy-minerality common of the Syrahs of the Rhone. Are they a new hybrid? A mix of the old and a twist of the New World style? Maybe. But it really doesn’t matter, they are exquisite representations of a very old and refined grape.
Any way you look at it, what you are going to find in these Washington Syrahs are jammy-up front flavors with some earthy backbone behind the scenes. Every vineyard showing a different composition of what this varietal has to offer. It makes opening each bottle exciting, you’ll never know what characteristics you will find.
On my own vineyard land I will not be able to grow Syrah. The climate is too cool, making it suitable for Pinot Noir and some other cool weather varietals. However, at some point, I’m going to look into purchasing Syrah grapes from growers of the aforementioned areas as well as warmer Southern Oregon, who is also putting out some fantastic Syrahs.
I can’t wait to see what I can do with this very special grape.
One Year Ago Today: This Will Have You Singin’ “La Cucaracha”