A friend and winemaker called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would try his unreleased 2011 Syrah (from BC) and let him know my thoughts.
I have to say, it's a good job that affords one phone calls like that on a regular basis! So of course I generously offered that my taste-buds were up to the task but then the winemaker zealously offered the 2010 Syrah as well; so that I could make an informed conclusion as to the wines' development.
My day was getting better and better, for that was when I remembered that one of his neighbors had also sent me his 2010 and 2011 Syrah. Four bottles is too much for even I to drink on my own, and so I began to drum-up a list of potential reprobates who would come and swill with me in some shady den of iniquity.
Then genius hit: I had always wanted to sit and compare these BC Syrah/Shiraz versus their counterparts from around the world. Well, "if you build it - they will come", and so I got on the phone right then and there and started beating the bushes for support for my little tasting.
First a trickle, then a torrent, of Syrah and Shiraz from every corner of the importer world came washing over my desk like a peppery-Tsunami. By the time I got in my car and drove to UVA winebar (www.uvawinebar.ca/) we had accumulated 16 wines. One writer looked at the assembled throng (? flock? gaggle? herd?) of bottles and simply stated "You got a little carried away." I smiled nervously, wrapped them all in paper bags until even I forgot which was which, and we got down to the business we had gathered for: ascertaining what level of Syrah BC was producing when compared side-by-side, blind, versus some of the most experienced producers in the world.
- single varietal Syrah
- most recent vintage (85% of wines were 2009,2010 or 2011)
- priced between $30 and $50 CAD (in the BC market)
- Painted Rock 2010, 2011 (BC) www.paintedrock.ca
- Black Hills 2010, 2011 (BC) www.blackhillswinery.com
- Desert Hills 2008 (BC) www.deserthills.ca
- Le Vieux Pin 2011 (BC) www.levieuxpin.ca
- Cedar Creek 2005 (BC) www.cedarcreek.bc.ca
- Mission Hill SLC 2007 (BC) www.missionhillwinery.com
- Cannonbah 2007 (AUS) canonbah.com.au
- Glaetzer "Bishop" 2012 (AUS) www.glaetzer.com
- Tyrrell "Hunter Valley" 2010 (AUS) www.tyrrells.com.au
- Thorn-Clarke "Shotfire" 2010 (AUS) www.thornclarkewines.com.au
- Perez Cruz "Maipo" 2006 (CHILE) perezcruz.com
- Tanagra " Casablanca" 2006 (CHILE) www.villard.cl
- Corralillo "San Antonio" 2010 (CHILE) matetic.com
- Altico "Jumilla" 2011 (SPAIN) www.carchelo.com
We swirled, we sipped, we spit, we debated. All of these wines, some with more then one vintage - blind - in an hour. And through it all we all learnt a great deal. It was quite a surprise when the unveiling occurred! Indeed, the entire process was a learning one for us all, in the words of one attendee "I'm surprised. I'm surprised not just at the generosity of fruit in all of the wines, but that even I - who have lived in BC for years, cannot tell which are the BC wines."
Here are the top three wines, in order. Scores are approximations and an average.
1. Canonbah drought reserve, 92/93 points
From the Western Plains of Australia, picked at a yield of 1 ton per HA and only in years of drought, this wine sings of refined elegance and decidedly masculine in it's approach. Imagine a Syrah that drinks much the same way that James Bond looks when played by Daniel Craig; muscular yet refined, intense yet sophisticated. This was a wine that categorically impressed everyone on the panel. Only one person guessed where it was from and for the rest of us, we were so delighted by it's concentration, clean mineral-tones, heavily spiced-musky aromas and pungent earthiness that I don't think we cared. This is truly World-Class and well worth the $50 (SPEC) in BC.
2. Glaetzer's "Bishop", 92 points
Precision shone through every sip, every tendril of aroma that slipped up from the bottle. So bright, so refreshing was this wine that more then one person commented (when tasted blind) that it must surely be a New World wine, and obviously cool-climate. We unanimously voted this wine second place, and by a narrow margin. Capable of many years of aging, there is also a great deal of development left. I would personally love to taste a bottle with 10 years on it and see how the fresh notes integrate with dark berries, leather and spice.
3. Le Vieux Pin, 91+/92 points
If the Canonbah was the epitome of masculine elegance, then Le Vieux Pin is the essence of feminine. A hedonistic plethora of floral, musky, ripe red berry tones not only danced from the glass when poured, but continued to evolve for the entire time we had the bottle open. Stunningly fresh yet balanced acids, fine and well integrated tannin, full concentration of flavors that evolved as well. Utterly delightful and well-worth cellaring.
Honorable mention must be made to the exquisite 2005 Cedar Creek Syrah which was, upon release years ago, rated the best wine in Canada. Now with several years in a well-attended cellar it has evolved into a graceful example of how the varietal can age; with warm raisin aromas and sweet buttery tones, the acids still fresh and integrated, the tannin utterly refined. A graceful palate, everyone was captivated and would have ranked as our number 4 choice for the evening.
And perhaps this was what I had been looking for; a sign of validation that though BC is a small wine region (Algeria produces more wine then BC), we are producing quality. Some of the results were truly brow-raising, and many of the tasters walked away with a greater appreciation for the dynamic work happening "Down Under". Truly, Australia Syrah/Shiraz is not the same heavily-oaked, jammy-berry-laden, high-alcohol beverage that it once may have been... but by the same token, as the wine-industry has evolved over the past decade, BC wines have evolved no less.
And as we dragged our weary-palates towards the door, scores had become less important then process. More important still was the feeling that we perhaps understood a little better the direction our home-grown winemakers were going. Sticking to their instincts, following their own sense of what their land wants to express, I cannot help but believe that when our vines have a few more years on them - I will be reading Australian and Chilean writers talking about how well their Syrah is comparing to BC.
Many thanks not only to the wineries, but to the agents who graciously donated their time and sample bottles:
www.renaissancewine.ca : Desert Hills, Thorn-Clarke
www.freehousewine.com : Glaetzer, Black Hills
www.empsoncanada.com : Canonbah
www.markanthonywinemerchants.com : Mission Hills, Tyrrell
www.christopherstewart.com : Le Vieux Pin
As always, I welcome your comments here - or on Twitter @AStudentofWine
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!