Sunday, August 30, 2009

Syrah Soiree, Part One

Ok, I have to tell you--over the past ten years, I have kept Syrah at a close range, never quite letting it into my life completely. The first red wine I ever tried was at that same first tasting I mentioned in my previous Zinfandel post, only it wasn't Zin. It was the dreaded Syrah--or in this case, a Shiraz from Australia. Huge, tannic and scary! Almost like bad cough syrup! I must've turned blue in the face because the distributor who was doing the tasting started laughing at me. I guess she wanted me to start my wine education by choking to death, huh? Since then, my palate has evolved and though I've moved on to the rich Zins, the elegant Cabs and Merlots, velvety and earthy Pinot Noirs and even Petite Sirahs, Syrah has stayed an arm's length away. I've always viewed it as huge beast with a giant question mark on it! How is this one going to taste? Do I dare check it out?

I have this tendency to like big, fruity reds and I'll admit the color of Syrah scares the you know what out of me! The "Dark Monster" I call it! The wines I've liked in the past don't usually look this dark! Sometimes when I try it, I get this one-dimensional object--big, dark, BORING! Sometimes I get a mouth full of cotton balls, such as the very first Shiraz I ever tried. Ugh! And why is this wine called Syrah here in the U.S. and Shiraz in Australia? Do I really need to think that hard? All in all, my opinion of Syrah was this: It's just too much trouble for me to bother with! End of story. Until now...

Something happened over the course of the past week and a half to make me change my mind and embrace Syrah in a whole new light! As you will see from the next few posts, I was obviously very misinformed and judgmental. What was my problem? Since the Syrahs I'd had in the past were mostly tasting the same, I expected them to all be that way. They're not. They can be as diverse as night and day. Too bad it took me nearly ten years to figure this out!

While on my WBC09 venture last month, I met Dennis and Julie Grimes. They own a very nice winery, Eagles Nest Winery And Vacation Cottage, in Ramona, California--near San Diego. Mind you, I knew very little about them or their winery before I met them. In fact, I had never had any wines from any area in California south of Santa Barbara. They were kind enough to come rescue me by giving me some of their 2007 Estate Syrah to take home and try. I truly wish I'd have had room in my suitcase for more! I've never had a Syrah quite like this one and just recently, this wine received a great accolade by winning an award: a gold medal at the 2009 Temecula Wine Competition!

The first thing I noticed was the unique artwork on the wine's label. Three beautiful Sheltie dogs grace the label. Many of this winery's labels feature wildlife in their artwork. The second thing I noticed was the color. Not black, not scary! The third thing I noticed was the alcohol level of this wine. Mind you, the majority of California reds I've sampled lately have all been in the 14-16% range, and while I personally don't mind the high alcohol levels, this sort of thing has come under a lot of public scrutiny lately. There are advocates out there who want it stopped. You'll be happy to know that this Syrah is just under 13%. So how does that affect the flavor? I was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors of this wine melded together. For being so young, it definitely wasn't one dimensional at all. Dark berries, a bit of pepper and and a little bit of chocolate. I even detected this slightly nutty quality which could have been from the spice. It had a medium body with a smooth, velvety finish. I couldn't have asked for a nicer wine to start my "proper" Syrah education! It defied my belief that a wine has to have a higher alcohol level to be more flavorful! Definitely a food wine, this Syrah paired up perfectly with a spicy sausage and pasta dish I ordered at the restaurant that evening. I would also recommend pairing it with a hearty meat stew, steak or barbecued meats. Thumbs up! I'd like to try it again in about six months to a year and see how it evolves. Hopefully, there will be some left. With the accolades and the small production, it may disappear before I get a chance to do that!

Not available in shops and retail outlets, the best way to access this wine is to phone the winery and order it. Soon they will have an online store to make direct purchases. I have posted a link to the winery on my favorite links list on this blog site. They also have several blog sites--one of which is one of the top blogs in the wine or you can find them also at Please discover their wines for yourselves and if you get a chance to visit their winery, you'll be in for a real treat! I can't wait to go! They've worked really hard and put their heart and soul into it. A job well done!

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