Que Syrah?

Tasting of local Syrahs yields surprising results

VINTAGE NOR CAL<br>An assortment of locally produced Syrahs awaits on one of the wine-tasting tables at Vino 100 (704 Mangrove Ave.).

An assortment of locally produced Syrahs awaits on one of the wine-tasting tables at Vino 100 (704 Mangrove Ave.).

Photo By Jason Cassidy

The last decade has seen the sudden appearance of almost a dozen wineries here in the North State. I grew up in Shasta County and never considered, for instance, that the mountainous Trinity County to the west would ever produce a quality wine.

So, I decided an expedition was in order and hosted a tasting to sample the fruits of our area’s vintners.

The eight tasters were four couples, parents of children who attend the same elementary school. Five of us are amateur wine snobs of varying rank, one a casual wine drinker, and two are self-described beer aficionados.

Let’s be clear from the start. Our tasting of seven locally produced Syrahs (plus a surprise, generic, and very low-priced Napa Syrah thrown in for mischievous purposes) produced a disparate array of high and low scores. Like those proverbial scene-of-the-crime accounts, all of the witnesses gave varying testimony. This tasting seemed to prove the adage that “One man’s refuse is another man’s refuge.”

Everyone brought appetizers (mostly cheese) on a Friday afternoon at five o’clock. In the kitchen, I had covered all eight bottles with brown paper and numbered them. The wine had been opened briefly and then re-corked three hours earlier. The tasters could simply pour sips from whichever bottles they wanted, in any order. This was also a social event, but we set ourselves soberly to the task. Most compared notes (No-no? Oh well), while one of the beer enthusiasts methodically tasted and noted at a remove, not wanting to contaminate his initial impressions with the babble of imbibing bibblers.

When the bottles’ identities were finally unveiled, there was surprise, recognition and bafflement, as the preconceptions of some were roundly shattered; connections between taste and label design were made for the first time; and even some shock perhaps at rating highly a wine that cost all of $2.50 (on sale), or having dissed a wine that was $22.95. A 2 out of 10 for such a bottle?

Three of us (two wine snobs and one beer aficionado) chose the R. Merlo as being the best, but the impressions of the rest brought the wine down to second-to-last in overall rankings (so we gladly finished off that most-expensive bottle).

Strangely enough, my close second choice was the Quilici, at half the price of the R. Merlo, and I noted that the two tasted similar. Yet no one else gave it more than a 5!

Adding to my perplexity, however, was the fact that the “bottom shelf” Sea Ridge Syrah (on sale for $2.50 at Safeway!) received two third places and one second place and finished fourth overall. Ouch!

The chart is to be read with caution, as some pretty cruel grades were given out (by obviously capricious and merciless tasters). Personally, I gave all wines but one a 7 or higher (others must live in a less nuanced world).

This tasting represents a fleeting moment in time with so many variables that its quantification is unreliable as a possible measure of your subjective taste. The best way to discover the local wine is to gather some friends and have your own tasting!

wine (county) price total pts.
(of possible 80)
Grey Fox 2003 (Butte) $16 51.5
Odyssey (Butte) $15.50 49
Long Creek 2003 (Butte) $15 48
Sea Ridge 2006 (Napa) $4.95 45
New Clairvaux 2005 (Tehama) $17 44
LaRocca 2006 (Butte) $18 42.5
R. Merlo 2003 (Trinity) $22.95 42
Quilici 2004 (Butte) $12 33