Syrah, Shiraz, and Blends

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape; as with Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, New World producers choose the name that reflects the style. “Shiraz” is the Australian (New World) version—fruity, full throttle, high in extract and alcohol. “Syrah,” in contrast, evokes the northern Rhône, earthy, brooding, tannic in youth, meaty, peppery, and leathery. Both are rich and spicy.

One apocryphal tale of the grape’s origin tells of Crusaders returning to France via Cyprus, bringing with them vines from the Persian capital Shiraz. However, DNA profiling in France and California has shown that Syrah arose from two southeastern France forebears, Dureza (red) and Mondeuse Blanche (white). The grape is relatively productive and disease resistant, late to bud but somewhat early to ripen. It thrives in warm, dry climates and grows in compact bunches of small, deeply colored berries. Syrah ages well and adds longevity to any wine in which it’s blended.

The grape has increased greatly in popularity and plantings over the last three decades, alone and blended. In the south of France it is typically blended with Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Counoise. New World blends involve Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Viognier (white). High yields produce fruity wines with a supple texture, black fruit, and light savory notes. Low yields result in a complex interplay of fruit and savory flavors with firm structure. Soil and oak also greatly affect the wines’ flavor and texture.

One of today’s wines doesn’t use the name of the grape at all: Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2014 is all Syrah, instead of the usual Grenache-dominated southern Rhône blend. Grapes are sourced from the Gard in the west and Vinsobres (its own appellation) in the east, with the latter making up 75%; the wine is aged in vat.

Two wines call themselves Syrah, but they’re very different. Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2013 is an elegant, focused, lush blend of Syrah and Viognier cofermented, with Mourvèdre added for structure and texture, Grenache added to boost the fruit. Bodegas Mano a Mano Venta la Ossa Syrah 2011 is made from old, low yielding vines; it offers powerful aromas and ripe, fleshy flavors.

Two wines use Shiraz in their names. Milton Park Shiraz 2013 is from Southeastern Australia. It’s spicy, with licorice and dark chocolate, lifted berry and plum fruit, and soft tannins. Radley & Finch Lazy Hare Shiraz 2014 is a South African version, with black cherry, fig, raisin, smoke, coffee, and dark chocolate notes. It expresses its homeland as well as its grapes.

Whichever name you use, whether it stands alone or parties with other grapes, Syrah/Shiraz is a great partner for grilled foods, coarse textures (try black beans), thick stews, fresh herbs, and barbecue of all types.

Join us next week as we welcome April with “Spring Is in the Air.”

- M.P. Rouse


Wines for Easter

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 24, 2016…

This is an unusual year. Passover, which usually begins before Easter (the Last Supper was a Seder), starts some four weeks after the Christian feast day, so today’s tasting will focus on Easter wines.

As family and friends gather to share a meal at this holiday, it’s likely that wine will grace the table. All three colors—red, white, and rosé—can partner the traditional ham, lamb, and early spring vegetables that are on the menu. We like the idea of pouring a local wine, and Heron Hill Dry Riesling Ingle Vineyard 2012 is our choice this year. The vineyard is located on the west side of Canandaigua Lake and has been farmed sustainably since John and Josephine Ingle planted it in 1972. This is a classic Finger Lakes Riesling, with flint and floral aromas and flavors of peach, pear, and sweet grapefruit. It’s great with ham, oysters, and vegetarian fare.

Think pink for a festive spring note, and try the Underwood Rosé 2015; it comes in a bottle and also in a half-bottle-sized can. This wild blend offers generous fruit, intense concentration, and great energy. It can partner vegetables, Asian food, ham, or salmon with ease but needs nothing at all. The only vexing question is, do you drink it out of the can or do you use a glass?

We’re showing three reds, in three styles, from three countries. New Zealand is the source of Opawa Pinot Noir 2013. Grapes for this wine come largely from a very stony former riverbed planted in the mid-1990s. Sustainably grown fruit was fermented with natural yeasts and aged in French oak to produce an elegant, juicy Pinot with fruit, spice, cocoa, and toast tied together with supple tannins. As far as food goes, this is a bridge wine, pairing with almost anything.

Bordeaux is a classic partner for beef and lamb, and we suggest Château de Parenchère Cuvée Raphaël 2010, the top of the line from this producer. 2010 was an excellent vintage, and this Merlot-dominated blend is at a great point in its life. It offers blackberry and other dark fruit, toasted coffee bean, and dark chocolate. It can partner grilled or roasted meat preparations, or richer roasted winter vegetables.

Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot, is known for rich, full, ripe reds. Chiaromonte Elè Primitivo 2013, named for the winemaker’s daughter, contains a dash of Aglianico, adding bramble, cigar, and leather to the black currant and blackberry preserves notes of Primitivo (aka Zinfandel). Grapes for this wine come from 7 to 25 year-old bush vines, certified organic since 2009. This is a natural for grilled meats, especially lamb, or grilled portobellos.

There are many other good choices for the Easter table, whatever the menu. The Red Feet staff will gladly help you choose wines that suit your budget and your taste—we love hearing the creative cooking ideas our customers come up with, and hope you’re willing to share your recipes!

- M.P. Rouse

Green Wines

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 17, 2016…

Around March 17 each year, Red Feet does a tasting of green wines. It’s not a nod to Portugal’s vinho verde; rather, it’s a focus on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic production. Red Feet marks these wines with green tags.

Sustainable is an unregulated term in most cases, though some regions (New Zealand; Lodi, CA) have rules in place. It refers to social, environmental, and economic practices that keep the land and its people going strong.

The term “organic” in the US market is regulated by the National Organic Program, whether products come from home or abroad. Wines labeled “Made from Organic Grapes” must contain at least 70% organically grown grapes (most contain more), and agrochemicals may be used in the vineyard. The certifying body must appear on the label. In addition, no more than 100 ppm of sulfites may be added. It takes three years of “clean” to certify a vineyard. It’s an expensive process, and many producers balk at the cost and the paperwork. In marginal climates (like ours), growers may face the choice of losing certification or losing a crop, so they don’t certify, even when they use organic practices.

When a wine is certified organic, 95% of the content is organic, there are no flavoring agents and no sulfites are added. Pop tarts are easier to certify organic than wine is!

Organic production is about what a grower doesn’t do; biodynamics focuses on what a producer does. It’s based on the 1920s writings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (founder of the Waldorf movement), who laid out principles and practices. The vineyard is seen as a living entity; when it is healthy and balanced, it produces living wine. What might be called agricultural homeopathy awakens the plants, soils, and microorganisms. Cosmic rhythms, variously favoring roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits, determine the best times to perform certain tasks; tinctures and composts are applied to soils and plants. The European organization Demeter is the primary certification agency, though others exist.

Our white wines are made from organically grown grapes. Domaine des Hautes Noëlles Les Parcelles Muscadet 2014 comes from the Loire Valley near the Atlantic Ocean. Made from certified organic Melon de Bourgogne grapes, this is a wine for seafood. MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc 2015, made from free-run Steen (as the grape is known in South Africa) comes from unirrigated bush vines grown in vineyards using organic practices. Its fresh stone fruit, apple, and tropical notes are framed by refreshing acidity, making it a great partner for vegetable dishes, poultry with an Asian flair, or seafood.

Two of our reds use biodynamic viticulture. Hammond Pinot Noir 2013 hails from Germany and uses a Swiss clone to produce bright tart cherry and plum flavors with a silky texture. Enjoy with sockeye salmon. Domaine Filliatreau Château Fosquet Saumur 2014 is a Loire Cabernet Franc with both brambly and floral notes and good complexity. Pair with pork or bean dishes. Argentina’s organic Durigutti Bonarda 2014 is spicy and rich, with cherry, plum, blueberry, mushroom and mineral notes held together by fresh acidity. Pair with homemade cream of mushroom soup and meatloaf.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

- M.P. Rouse

The Sexy South of France

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 10, 2016…

The south of France is a large region, curving along the Mediterranean from Provence in the east to the Pyrenees in the west.  Vines have been cultivated in this broad area for millennia, but medieval monasteries made winemaking a way of life.

The key region is Languedoc (and its southern sister Roussillon), the biggest producer in France.  The area along the coast is largely flat, and produces vast quantities juice, much destined for distillation.  Further inland (including the Rhône), the area ranges from hilly to mountainous with gravel and limestone soils.  These inland regions produce wines of character and place, largely red. Most landholdings are small and in several parcels, often planted with bush vines and worked by the same family for generations.  Red wines dominate; Carignan is the main grape, but Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre are also important. In the ‘90s, varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot appeared, usually labeled Vin de Pays (VdP) since AOC rules forbid them.  Much of the south’s wine is made by co-ops. Carbonic maceration is a common winemaking method here.

We’ll taste two whites, one from the west and one from the east.  Mas Janeil is nestled at the base of a cliff in the Agly Valley in the commune of Maury in Roussillon.  Les Hauts de Janiel Grenache-Sauvignon 2014 is a flavorful blend of these two Blancs to herald the impending spring.  Pair with salads, seafood, or chicken.  Moving east to the Rhône, we’ll sample the aromatic Domaine de Montfaucon Viognier 2014.  This is a lush wine with lovely texture, offering aromas and flavors of white flowers and peaches balanced by just-right acidity.  Drink this beauty as an aperitif or serve with Asian/fusion dishes.

We’ll stay in the Rhône for a red: Catherine le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2013, a Grenache-dominated blend made from organically grown vines about 50 years old.  Opening with deeply earthy aromas, the wine moves on to show its fruit and supple tannins.  This is a complex wine to pair with cassoulet or duck.  The same family has owned the vineyards of Ch. de Lascaux for 13 generations.  Soil is stony and the site protected from harsh northern winds, allowing grapes to ripen slowly and show their finesse, garrigue (bay, thyme, rosemary, licorice, mint), and deep fruit.  Château de Lascaux Pic-St-Loup Rouge Carra 2013 is a mouthful of Syrah-Grenache pleasure made from organic grapes fermented slowly and aged 14 months before bottling.  Gascony is known for Armagnac and white wines, but in the center of this southwestern region lies the appellation of Madiran, home to red wine based on Tannat, an inherently ornery variety.  It’s thick-skinned, late ripening, and very tannic; grapes cling so tightly to the vine they must be harvested by hand.  Blending, aging, and micro-oxygenation (invented here) are used to soften the Laplace Madiran Rouge 2013.  This is a powerful, somewhat severe wine whose fruit is somewhat shy now but will show its juicy side with further time in bottle or decanting.

–M.P. Rouse