Last Wednesday, my Washington Post column
detailed my issues with those big, bruising US syrahs that I’d been
complaining about here over the past few weeks. But I did find some
(Eric Asimov wrote along the same lines in the New York Times, extolling
California pinot noir makers who have gone against the syrupy
blockbuster style favored nowadays. His article was much more
influential than mine, but I’m okay with that!)
What makes for a good syrah? The same qualities that make for good
wines from any grape, any place. Balance among fruit, acidity and
alcohol. There are successful wines at high alcohol, such as the Sequel
Syrah 2005 from Columbia Valley in Washington, at 14.7%. Part of the
Long Shadows project, Sequel is made by John Duval, formerly winemaker
for Penfold’s Grange in Australia. The man knows syrah.
But his was an exception at that alcohol level. And I tasted some at
15.5% that were disjointed, clumsy oafs. Not only would I not want these
wines dating my daughter, I wouldn’t want them to wash down my dinner!
Please, winemakers, stop obliterating our palates. Please make wines
of balance and finesse, ones that do not obscure the fruit for the
supposed power of high extract, late-harvested wines. Too many
winemakers are producing wines this way “because we can” – because the
climate, improved vineyard techniques, yeasts, whatever, allow them to.
And there is evidently a market for them, so more power to the
winemakers who can sell their wines. But I think a lot of writers and
consumers are beginning to balk at this trend. We want wines that we can
finish, not wines that finish us.