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franklin county times

A wine tasting devoted to syrahs

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
July 24, 2002
This column is admittedly unfair to red wine lovers.
It's about a remarkable wine we discovered recently as we put together the list for Thursday night's syrah tasting. It may be the best inexpensive wine we have tasted this year. There's only one problem. You can't buy it. The state warehouse has run out and probably won't reorder. What a loss.
In looking over the list of available syrahs, we saw the name McDowell Valley Syrah Mendocino 1999 on the list of wines being discounted this month by the state warehouse. We turned to the Internet and learned that McDowell specializes in Rhone-style wines and their 1999 reserve syrahs won gold medals at the 2001 California State Fair and were named the best of 2,447 entries.
This was their second wine, but with the discount it would be about $11 per bottle retail and it was worth a try. We ordered a case. When the wine arrived several days ago we opened a bottle. It was remarkable, rich and concentrated with deep color and flavors of blackberry, cassis, leather with an appealing spicy background that truly fine syrahs have.
We immediately called the package store which orders wines for our tastings and requested several more cases for my own cellar. Then we discovered why the state had discounted the McDowell. This was the last case they had and, in effect, they put it on sale to move it out.
We will still serve it at Thursday night's tasting. But the remaining bottles in that case will go to my cellar and will not be turned over to the store for general sale. Sorry, but bargains like this rarely come along. But you owe it to yourself to see what a little money can occasionally buy.
Bottle notes
I love bottle notes. Here's how the McDowell winery describes its wine on the back bottle label. "It is smooth and luscious on the palate showing bright plum and blackberry fruit with a spicy finish. America's best syrah."
Not very modest but it may be accurate.
The McDowell winery is in California's Mayacamas Mountains of Southeastern Mendocino County. Their vineyard has one of the longest records of continuous wine grape production in California. Syrah and grenache have been planted there for almost a century.
Today their 330-acre vineyard devotes nearly a third of its acreage to Rhone varietals such as syrah. If you ever visit in the area, they have a tasting room and welcome visitors. And if you shop wine stores in other cities on long weekends or vacations, after you taste the McDowell tomorrow night, you'll look for it again.
There's actually no way to know if it is "America's Best Syrah" until we taste the other six tomorrow. The four additional American wines are more expensive several a great deal more expensive.
One is the Selby County syrah, blended in the traditional Cote Rotie style of the Rhone region. It is blended with another Rhone grape, the voignier, which results in a soft but spicy full-bodied wine.
Geyser Peak is a winery that since 1990 has been distinguished for consistently crafting wines that have kept it near the top of the list for the most awarded and honored wines from California. This wine is described as rich, ruby red in color, displaying characters of plum, black cherry, pepper, clove and spicy vanilla oak.
R.H. Phillips EXP Estate syrah should also delight you. Lower yields and mature fruit produced a flavorful and concentrated wine. It is an elegant, richly textured red wine with full flavors of raspberry, cherry, lavender and spice. Really quite nice.
American syrah
The final American syrah comes from the Steele winery located in Lake County, California. This organization consistently produces well-thought-of wines, regardless of the grape used.
In addition there is an Australian shiraz, the Leasingham Bin 61 and an Italian syrah, the Colvecchio Castello Banfi. Both are rated at 91 by The Wine Spectator magazine. They are also more costly, particularly the wine from Italy.
Seven wines in all will be served, six at the table and one at the door. As we have written before, the syrah grape for the past several years has been skyrocketing in popularity as wine lovers turn from the more feminine wines such as merlot to the massive mouthful of flavor represented by syrah.
Plantings of this grape in California have gone from fewer than 200 acres to almost 15,000 in recent years.
This is the first tasting we have ever had devoted strictly to this grape. It should be one of our most memorable.
Make your reservations
There are still spaces remaining, so call 482-0930 and make your reservation. The tasting is $25 per place and will be at Northwood Country Club. You need not be a member of the club to attend. The tasting starts at 6:30 p.m.

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