Who likes a cool-climate Syrah? *Raises hand.* Syrah is one of the varieties that my partner in wine crime and I don’t agree on—meaning, he always wants it and I’m way picky about it. It was when I was working on an article for Edible Silicon Valley, discovering the Rhône wines of the South Bay (read: Where We Rhône: Wine Trends In Silicon Valley) that I discovered the broad range of styles that can come from the Syrah grape. And it was during an interview with renowned winemaker Ross Cobb that it dawned on me that I truly gravitate toward the subtle, but undoubtedly structured, Syrahs grown in cooler climates. “We’ve always known that this area (Sonoma Coast) is an outstanding place for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Cobb said. “But I’ve always thought that it’s also an outstanding cool Northern Rhône climate here.” He’s right. (Read more: Technical Review: Anaba Wines).
Well, today I bring to you that experience—that experience of subtlety, finesse, structure, and a small snippet of the Northern Rhône with a taste of Radio-Coteau’s 2014 Las Colinas Sonoma Coast Syrah.
My latest shipment from Panther Creek Cellars came with single-vineyard Pinot Noir from each of the winery’s estate vineyards. Super fun. I had the chance to compare the vineyards last year, so was so pleased to get to experience the 2017 release this year. The new kid on the block: Maverick Vineyard. In fact, this vineyard, located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Oregon was only planted seven years ago, in 2013. For those of you unfamiliar with a vine’s growth cycle, typically the first three years of a vine’s life does not produce any fruit (or at least not enough or enough quality fruit to make wine). So, I imagine, 2017 was really the first harvest that yielded enough fruit to make enough sellable wine. And even then, only 150 cases were produced. So, how did the new kid fare?
This was literally a case of, “Do you want a red or white wine with dinner tonight?” The fact of the matter was the meal could have easily paired with either. So, I thought, heck, why not try this (for me) experimental blend I just received in my latest allocation of Panther Creek new releases. It’s a cool concept: Take off the skins of the red wine grape and ferment it like a white and then, blend it with another white. No reason it shouldn’t work…
Before I leave Bordeaux and move on to other French regions (and the rest of the wine world), I want to do a little regional breakdown of Bordeaux. And, if you can stay with me through that, I have a wine review (or two) at the very end…
To set the scene, The Dordogne and Garonne rivers combine to form the Gironde Estuary and divide Bordeaux vineyards into three broad areas. The wine growing regions to the west and south of the river is called The Left Bank. It includes the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes districts.
Médoc can be further divided into two regions, if you will. The northern portion, called the Bas-Médoc (typically simply labelled Médoc on labels), is home to more clay-based soils. Thus, plantings in this northern portion of Médoc are predominantly Merlot, the blends Merlot-based, and the wines produced are mostly intended for early-drinking.
The more southern portion of the Médoc is called Haut-Médoc; it is considered the more “highly rated” of the two Médoc areas. Within Haut-Médoc, there are several smaller appellations, the most renowned being:
It is here we find the more gravelly soils. Therefore, the dominant grape variety in these appellations is Cabernet Sauvignon; the blends here have a higher percentage of the grape variety. The wines tend to have that classic core of black currant, complemented by flavors and aromas of oak. They often have grippy tannins in their youth that smooth and soften elegantly with age.
Graves and Pessac-Léognan
This was a bit confusing for me at first, but to be clear, Pessac-Léognan is actually a region inside the larger region of Graves.
In Graves, as you may be able to tell from the name, the soil is also quite, well, gravelly. And, again, the dominant grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon. However, it’s noted that the wines are bit lighter in body and more fragrant than those found to the north in the Haut-Médoc.
Graves and Pessac-Léognan are permitted to produce both red and white wines, but it is Pessac-Léognan, which is in the northern portion of Graves, that is most noted for premium white wine production, with many wines eligible for cru classé status. (Note: The larger Graves appellation does produce white wine, typically Sauvignon Blanc in an un-oaked style.)
As noted in a previous post, like the red wines of Bordeaux, most whites are blended wines, predominantly Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, with some including a touch of Muscadelle as well. Sauvignon Blanc adds the citrus and green fruits as well as provides the acidity; Sémillon adds the body, texture, and lends to the ageability of these wines; Muscadelle, when used, provides a subtle touch of floral perfume.
The white wines of Pessac-Léognan are usually fermented and/or aged in oak, often with a certain percentage of new oak. So, these wines will be medium to full bodied and have notes of toast and other flavors indicative of oak usage.
FUN FACT: Médoc and Sauternescan also produced dry white wines, but they have to be labelled under the generic Bordeaux appellations as opposed to their specified appellation.
SAUTERNES & BARSAC
See my previous post talking all about botrytized sweet wines and learn more about Sauternes and the production of noble rot-influenced sweet wines.
Personal Fact: I find that I much prefer wines from the Right Bank. That being said, I am young in my wine career, so welcome the opportunity to change my mind about that in the future. But the thing is, the Right Bank, with it’s clay-based soils is dominated by Merlot and second place goes to Cabernet Franc—which I love.
Fun Fact: It is in the Right bank where the garagistemovement was created. The term refers to small-lot winemaking (small batches from small plots)—with no expense spared in the vineyard or the winery—the result of which are full-bodied, incredibly ripe wines.
St. Émillion has three distinct soil types.
Vineyards on a plateau to the north and west of the town of Saint-Émillion are planted warm, well-drained soils and it is here where Cab Franc (and to a lesser extent Cab Sauv) can thrive.
Vineyards on the escarpment to the south and east of town are planted on clay limestone soils.
Note: It is from these two areas where the most prestigious wines known to St. Émillion come from. Wines have high to medium tannins, but compared to the Left Bank, they have a softer, richer mouthfeel, and include complex red berry fruit aromas, and, with age, develop notes of tobacco and cedar. Yum.
3. The vineyards located on sandy soils at the foot of the escarpment are usually a source of lighter-bodied, less prestigious wines. (Wallet friendly.)
Pomerol is significantly smaller than St. Émillion, but both the wines and the reputation of Pomerol are similar to that of St. Émillion. However, because of a slight difference in soil type, the wines tend to be a bit richer and spicier.
CÔTES DE BORDEAUX
There is a group of “lesser known” red wine appellations that have collectively agreed to share the name Côtes de Bordeaux:
Similar to the Bordeaux appellated wines, these wines tend to be Merlot-based and intended for early drinking.
Entre-Deux Mers—located between the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers (clever name, no?)—is a white wine only appellation. Here, the wine is typically made from Sauvignon Blanc—an exception to the “Bordeaux wines are always a blend” rule. They are made in a fresh, unoaked style.
For more information about Bordeaux, be sure to read about the Bordeaux Classification System.
How’d I do? Anything you want to add about any of these Bordeaux appellations?
You made it! Congrats. Here are two wine reviews. One, from Bordeaux and another a Bordeaux inspired blend from Sonoma. And, yes, if you can sort of make out the background of each photo, they were both paired with the same duck dish—both provided a wonderful pairing. Cheers!
About the Wine: Chateau Miqueu 2016 Haut-Médoc
Appearance: pale ruby
Aroma: developing aromas with medium (+) intensity: black currant, terragon, black cherry, cloves, smoke, sweet tobacco, a hint of leather and meatiness
Palate: dry; high acid; medium (+) tannins; medium alcohol; medium body; with medium (+) flavor intensity: black currant, black cherry, smoke, pepper, licorice, capsicum; medium (+) finish.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this wine is very good and that you can, indeed, enjoy it now, but does have the potential for aging.
About the Wine: Benziger Family Winery 2016 Oonapais
Appearance: medium ruby
Aroma: developing aromas with pronounced intensity: cranberry, chocolate, black cherry, black plum, smoke, eucalyptus, black currant, licorice, and a hint of leather
Palate: dry; high alcohol; medium (+) body; medium (+) tannin level; medium (+) acid; and medium (+) flavor intensity: black cherry, anise, blackberry, smoke/toast, cedar wood, black pepper, hint leather, eucalyptus, kalamata olives, chocolate; finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this is an outstanding wine that can be enjoyed now but certainly has the potential for aging.
PERSONAL NOTE: Between the two? I’d recommend (and reach for) the Benziger over the Haut-Médoc.
BriscoeBites officially accepts samples as well as conducts on-site and online interviews. Want to have your wine, winery or tasting room featured? Please visit the Sample Policy page where you can contact me directly. Cheers!
**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**
In a previous post, I explored potential Australian alternatives to Burgundian Chardonnay. This was in response to part one of a WSET Level 3 practice question. Before I move on to part two, which (spoiler alert) takes a deep dive into the wines of Bordeaux, I want to finish up my tour of Burgundy with a quick look at the regions not discussed in that prior post.