Wine tastings are a learning experience
By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
July 31, 2002
We have often said that wine tastings can be a learning experience as well as a pleasant evening to share with other wine lovers.
That was certainly true with last week's syrah tasting. Syrah is a wine that has not yet gained in popularity in our area because of the limited selection offered by the Mississippi ABC warehouse. In California syrah is the hottest up and coming grape and, after tasting seven of them the other night, we know why.
This was a tasting in which every bottle had merit. There were no disappointments. There were surprises, however, chiefly California's R.H. Phillips and Australia's Leasingham.
In last week's column we touted a syrah from the McDowell winery and explained the only problem with it was the case we bought for the tasting was the last in the state. People who liked it would not be able to buy it, an unusual situation to say the least, Part of its charm was its price of under $12 per bottle.
The crowd agreed the McDowell was excellent and a steal if they could only find some. For several in attendance it was the wine of the evening. No one had a harsh word to say. We felt before the wines were open that none of the others to be served could match it for price and quality.
We were wrong.
Our door wine was equally remarkable. It is from R.H. Phillips of California and is called their EXP. It is made in the style of wines from France's Rhone Valley. Big, powerful, concentrated flavor and tons of cherry and berry overtones. Equally good is its price. This remarkable wine retails for under $13. The vintage is 2000 and, admittedly, it is still very young. The tannins are obvious. But at that price it is a wonderful value.
At the very least you owe it to yourself to try a bottle. If what your package store has in inventory sells out, the store can reorder. To me, the Phillips was the discovery of the evening. Not the best wine, but certainly the biggest surprise.
The most popular wine by a show of hands was the Leasingham Bin 61 shiraz from Australia. It proves again the Aussies were very smart when they latched on to the syrah grape, which they call shiraz in their country, and started making blockbuster fruity wines that were more competitive with California's red zinfandel than with the merlots or others less intense. That decision has made them the third largest supplier to the American market, behind only Italy and France.
There is no question but that the American market is on a flavor binge. When most people drink wine today they want to say, "Wow, that is tasty." The Leasingham is tasty. It is really good juice. The color was remarkable, deep, deep red and very attractive.
It sells for about $20 and is worth every penny of it. There are a number of similar Australian wines but I thought this one ranked higher on that list than most. Bin 61 carried a rating of 91 and deserved it. It, too, is available, unlike the McDowell.
Italy's syrah, Castello Banfi, the most expensive wine of the evening at $35, was a completely different style. It was a wine for experienced wine lovers who have developed a sensitive pallet over the years. One such described it as more elegant than the others and that was accurate.
The Banfi is a sipping wine, not made for gulping. It was remarkably well balanced with charming flavors and would be wonderful with veal or some other dish which would not overpower it. The Banfi is not a wine for people who are still in the learning stage but for people who know wine it would be a nice addition to any cellar.
My one big disappointment was the Geyser Peak at about $16. As we've said several times, this winery has made its reputation and its fortune by producing good mid-range wines, not bad but not great either. They sell in the mid teens.
I've always enjoyed their chardonnay and their cabernet sauvignon. The syrah, however, was lacking to my taste. I didn't care for the bouquet and I thought the flavor was a bit thin. Yet when we asked for a show of hands there were several tasters who endorsed it.
The syrah produced by the Steele winery was excellent and deserved the 88 given it by the Wine Spectator. I would have liked it better, however, if it had been a bit under $20 rather than a bit over that amount.
Selby's syrah was just a slightly lesser wine than that by Steele. Its rating was an 87 and that was probably accurate. It too was slightly overpriced at about $22. But both it and the Steele would compliment a steak with their spicy cherry and berry flavors.
Some people at a tasting will fall in love with a wine or wines. Several will tell me they don't like what they're drinking and deposit it in the dump bucket which is placed on the table at every tasting. But that's the purpose, to allow consumers to discover wines they might not otherwise try and this one certainly did that.