I’ve been wanting to try the Cabot Syrah for a long time. I mean, it’s from Humboldt for god’s sake. As a native Northern Californian the only product that I have intimate knowledge of that comes out of Humboldt is definitely not wine. And just to make sure there are no mis-understandings, this wine does not have any marijuana in it. At least not in the aroma or taste profile.
The other reason I’ve been wanting to try it is the interview that John Cabot gave on Grape Radio a few years back. I hope you’ll listen to it but just to sum up: Cabot was exploring some vineyards up in Humboldt County (having gone to school up in Arcata) and realized that viable juice could be produced there. He first planted Merlot, Cab, and Zinfandel and the grapes did well in the first few years; then they hit the water table below the ground. Suddenly, they were growing like weeds and the fruit began to taste diluted.
Cabot didn’t give up and searched out hillside locations where the grapes wouldn’t be able to reach the water table below. On these locations he made the decision to plant Syrah, convinced that it could handle the Humboldt climate. The wine that I tasted is his flagship wine named Kimberly’s vineyard after his wife.
This is really good juice. It’s actually one of the more balanced wines I’ve had in a while (stay tuned, this balance question is important). It’s definitely ready to drink. On first opening I got some pomegranate aromas and the wine had a nice acidic lift on the finish. This wine also has floral aromas on the nose because it’s co-fermented in the Côte-Rôtie style with a little Viognier.
As the wine opened up, it really began to sing. It began to take on more fruit characteristics. The fruit is bright, but accompanied by a pervasive salty olive aroma. In fact, it reminds me of a certain salty olive that one can find at Whole Foods that looks all wrinkly, kind of like a large raisin. The olive tastes a little like a salted plum or a prune, in fact, and that’s what I kept getting on this wine.
All in all, I would say that this wine does not quite have the brightness and acidity of the other classic cool-climate Syrahs I’ve tasted on the blog, but it does have some nice characteristics and is decidedly not Shiraz-tasting. It tastes like real Syrah.
Ok, here comes the kicker — this wine is 15.3% alcohol! So, for those that don’t know, most wines that are classified as cool-climate are not anywhere near that percentage of alcohol. The reason being is that they simply don’t get ripe enough. The lack of ripeness usually translates to low alcohol because percentage of alcohol is proportional to amount of sugar in the wine, which is driven by the amount of sunshine that the grapes are exposed to.
And the opposite is also true, of course — wines from warmer climes often have a lot of alcohol because the grapes get so ripe and full of sugar. One would expect a wine with this amount of alcohol to taste over-ripe, extracted, and too sweet but that is simply not the case.
My question here, then, is how did Cabot Vineyards get a wine to be so balanced and to have what I imagine to be Côte-Rôtie characteristics with that amount of alcohol? There was not one time during my consumption of this wine that this wine smelled or tasted hot. In fact, if I had looked at the alcohol percentage before I bought the wine, I might not have bought it and definitely would have assumed that it didn’t have a place in a cool-climate Syrah blog. But this wine is good, and it’s balanced, and it tastes like real Syrah so I guess all my pre-conceived notions about alcohol have to be thrown out for now, unless there are some extenuating circumstances to this wine. Maybe there is some Humboldt kine in it after all?