This is my first Oregon Syrah for this blog, I have nothing against Oregon Syrah but, so far, the blog has been very California-centered, mostly because these are the cool-climate Syrahs that I’m closest to and are getting the most buzz around here (at least, what buzz there is). But Oregon intrigues me, especially Syrah grown in cool-climate areas that are mostly associated with Pinot. In an SF Chronicle article a few years back I remember hearing about how some of the Pinot growers in Oregon are experimenting with some Syrah plantings to see if the grape will ripen.
These are the same types of characters who are attempting Syrah in the Anderson Valley and other cool climes. It takes some bravery to make these wines in Pinot country. On a recent trip to Anderson Valley I was told by many of the tasting room personnel that, if anything, Syrah is being further relegated to the backburner as many vineyards are being pulled out in favor a surer bet, Pinot Noir. Yet, Syrah still exists, it hasn’t been completely subsumed by Pinot yet, and it is my hope that Syrah is on its way back.
According to my Oregonian friend who sent me this wine to try for the blog, this is a wine that is made intermittently only when the grapes ripen — and there’s simply no guarantee that they will. Syrah aficionados who make Syrah like this have usually been to the Northern Rhone, they’ve usually tasted and enjoyed wines from that region that, when made traditionally, are more similar to Pinot than the fruit-forward Shiraz and California Syrah from Lodi, Napa, and parts of Santa Barbara. They come back to California energized and convinced that they can follow in the footsteps of giants. And many do. The wines produced from these cooler climates are aromatic, elegant, and delicious. They’re often ageable and food-friendly in a way that many North American wines are not.
The Matello Syrah is made in the Cote Rotie style with a pretty high percentage of Viognier at 17%. It’s aged for two years in neutral oak and it goes through whole-cluster fermentation, and crushing by foot — all methods associated with Cote Rotie.
Day 1: Upon opening this wine, I was immediately struck by how savory it is. I mean there’s really not much of fruit at all in this wine, right off the bat. It’s all briny and floral goodness. There’s a little bit of plum but even with that and those floral components there’s really no getting around the fact that this wine needs some serious time to open up. It’s all savory mixed with tannins and high acidity at the moment. It has a lighter color than some of the bigger-style Syrahs. It reminds me of a wine that would be made in France — it’s lighter, more elegant, more floral, and would be absolutely amazing with food, especially salty food that would bring out the fruit that’s hiding there. There’s really no brawn in this wine, just pure light elegance, yet without the fruit.
Day 2: I left this wine corked on the counter to see how it would taste a day later. This wine is still anything but fruity, it’s savory and possibly more floral than before. On the palate the wine has definitely calmed down, it’s less tannic and the acidity has relaxed a little, it’s smoother and rounder. It’s a delicious wine that in the end really reminds me of salted plum, which just happens to be one of my favorite flavors in the world.
This is a wine that’s intriguing also because of how it might actually differ from vintage to vintage, which is something that can’t often be said for California wines (with the exception of the vintages of 2010 and 2011). Any wine made in this extreme location where it’s possible that the grapes might not even ripen one year is definitely going to see some vintage variation subject to weather’s capriciousness.
It’s definitely a food wine and after some research I noticed that the wine is on the wine list at Nostrana, one of Portland’s high-end Italian restaurants. This, to me, is proof that the wine is a different kind of North American Syrah. This is a wine that can proudly hold its own next to Italian wines that are known for their food-friendliness.
I’ll also admit that it’s also a wine that because of its lack of fruit forwardness might be a tough sell for a newcomer to cool-climate Syrah but for someone who is interested in what this varietal can do in cooler climes, this is a wine for you.