If you know anything about Northern Rhone Syrah, you’ve probably heard of Auguste Clape. He’s a traditionalist in an era where modern wine techniques have reached even the stalwart traditionalists of Northern Rhone. And his wines are spectacular. The wines are aged in neutral oak foudres and cement, made the same way they’ve been made for years.
The Vin Des Amis is from de-classified fruit from the Clapes’ Cornas vineyards. The wine, from 40 year old vines, has all the Northern Rhone character you could ever ask for.
This is clean, totally unadulterated cool-climate Syrah. If you want to know what true Syrah smells like, get this wine. It’s a little pricy but worth it to get a sense of what Syrah is really all about. There’s a bit of celery, along with earth, minerals, pepper, plum, blackberries and olive tapenade. The mid-palate is light and smooth with a slightly tannic finish that dries out the mouth. No hint of oak at all. Just a wine that tastes and smells honest and simple. But simple in a good way.
If you don’t have the budget for Clape’s higher priced Cornas wines, you can still get a taste of the Northern Rhone in all its glory with Vin Des Amis.
Have I told you how I felt about Patrick Comiskey’s speech about the state of American Syrah at the opening of the Celebrate Walla Walla wine event in June of 2014? If you follow this blog or follow me on Twitter with any regularity, you already know, I loved it. Patrick really nailed something that I’ve been trying to put into words since I started the blog. He makes the point that at its essence Syrah, when grown in the right places, has a wild character. Its flavor profiles are weird sometimes and that’s how we need to think about Syrah. It’s exactly this dose of strangeness and uniqueness that the wine world needs. We are no longer craving overripe, overly smooth and inert Cabernet, we are craving wine that makes us think and makes us salivate to learn more and that’s what Syrah does. That’s what makes it so dang intriguing and why, after tasting Syrah on a weekly (usually more) basis over the last five years, I keep coming back for more.
Based on Patrick’s speech, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines in Lodi came up with the idea for the hashtag #keepsyrahweird. I’m happy to say we’ve even had shirts made. I love the idea of embracing Syrah’s inner strangeness and twisting it on its head to make it positive.
It’s in the spirit of this embrace of cool-climate Syrah’s weirdness that I write about one of Samsara’s wines. Samsara is the brain child of Chad Melville of Melville Estates. He makes Pinot, Syrah, and Chardonnay for his family’s label but also has a side project devoted to cool-climate Syrah and Pinot from small sites. You only have to glance at the wall of empty bottles of Northern Rhone Syrah on the wall behind Samsara’s little tasting room in Lompoc to realize that Chad’s serious about making interesting new world Syrah.
Samsara’s winemaking is a very low-intervention style. The grapes are fermented with native yeasts and slowly and gently pressed, the resulting juice kept in French Oak Barrels for 24 months. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The wine: There’s an herbal element in the background that reminds me of celery soup mixed with day old meat, sweet plum and tobacco. On the palate the wine has a combination of beautiful acidity and softness with lift on the finish and well integrated tannins. Weird, right? And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I urge you to check out the rest of Patrick’s speech here on his blog and of course to search out more examples of Syrah that embrace its wild and weird side.