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1999 Syrahs


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Notes on a tasting of 1999 American Syrah/Shiraz

Hogue Vineyard Selection (Columbia Valley) – purple to the rim, the nose not too sweet, moderate tannins, and a bit of pepper. They add Lemberger to this (their lower end wine) to add pepper and spice. They’d have done better to leave out the Lemberger and add a bit more quality. Average.

Seven Hills (Walla Walla) – I have been a fan of their cabs, but had never tasted their Syrah before. There was a cassis nose with good depth, but although there was some sweetness in the mouth, the wine was overall pretty lean – but not bad, so let’s call it elegant instead. Nice little flash of acidity at the end.

Kestrel – the last wine from Washington State caused some disagreement and I suspect there was bottle variation. Some had this up among their favourites. My note said that the not unpleasant nose featured old tire rubber and spearmint (but in a nice way), was a bit hot on palate and had lingering sour notes in the finish.

Echelon – this was the ‘California’ blend. Simple fruit nosed with an annoying slightly metallic note, on entry a flash of fairly good fruit almost instantly overwhelmed by acidity that stopped about 3 iotas short of searing and went right on to the finish. Uninteresting wine blighted by excessive acidity.

Hess Select – another California appellation, mostly from Monterey, I believe, and with 5% cabernet added. Nose a bit sweet with some spice, medium weight wine, with none of the ‘acid blight’ as we were beginning to call it, and a finish that chopped off a bit short. Mundane but decent.

Steele (Lake County) – dark wine with a big dry spicy nose, almost more like an Australian Shiraz, but without the overwhelming blackberry fruit that many of the exported Shiraz sport. Instead, we saw sweet oak and vanilla, good body and a long finish with soft tannins. This was the first wine that made me think I wasn’t attending a wake for indifferent bottlings of Syrah. There was hope!

Fife Old Yokayo Rancho (Mendocino) – let me start by saying that I like Dennis Fife and his wines. Heck, he is probably the most vocal supporter of Petite Syrah, and I agree with him – I opened my last bottle of 1975 Freemark Abbey York Creek PS this year, and it was almost ready to drink! It was with some disappointment, then that I tasted this wine. It had a lighter colour than most of the others, and a greenness to the nose that put me off right at the start. The wine was lean and mean, with sour cherry flavours and a rustic feel to it. Dennis – say it isn’t so…..

Morgan (Monterey) – an earthy ripe nose with a hint of anise, good balance with soft tannins, and a lot of acid, but stopping just short of too much.. This one struck me as rather Rhone-like.

Seven Peaks – the fact that until the beginning of this year, this had been owned by Australia’s Southcorp accounts for the fact that this was the only wine labelled as a Shiraz rather than a Syrah (they were purchased by Boisset in February – does this herald a shift Rhone-ward in style?) A simple ripe, sweet cherry nose, medium bodied wine with very soft tannins and again, darned near a surfeit of acidity. Acceptable, but nothing I’d go out of my way to find.

Andrew Murray Les Couteaux Vineyard – this was the only wine from ‘down South’ in Santa Barbera, which was too bad, as we could have had Ojai, or Swanson, or even the idiosyncratic Clos Mimi. Murray is a huge Rhone fan, and this wine did him proud. The nose was a bit jammy, but with some bacon fat and smokiness, and the wine was medium bodied and well balanced with a nice long finish. My favourite of the evening – good wine!

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