This is the text of a recent email I sent to a prominent wine writer with whom many of you would be familiar. Although it isn’t specifically about Tempranillo, it brings to the forefront my great concern for what could eventually happen to the grape as has been the case with syrah.
I read your column recently in the “newspaper” and thought I’d share some concerns as to why I believe syrah has, to a great extent, “fallen from grace,” not only in our State but in California as well.
This actually came up in a discussion I had with Lance Cutler (once winemaker at Gundlach-Bundschu in Sonoma), or “aka” Jake Lorenzo at a tasting we were doing for an article Lance is contributing to the Wine Business Monthly magazine in an upcoming issue.
Essentially, my position was that syrah is suffering from an identity crisis, or maybe a “lack of identity” crisis. It was poignant that even one of the panelist’s syrah’s was in the tasting, contributing precisely to the problem. It wasn’t a flawed wine as actually, it was well made. However, it was blended with so much cabernet sauvignon that it hardly represented syrah as a grape, yet was labelled “syrah.” The winemaker’s position was that he was emulating the Australian style, and that it was a common practice “downunder” to blend the two.
In your article you pointed out, and justifiably so, that many young winemakers are attempting to produce wines from other less common varietals such as barbera, zinfandel, carmenere, etc. Those “many young winemaker” are also attacking syrah with the same degree of inexperienced gusto, and to a great extent, lack any understanding of the “grail” itself; that of Northern Rhone syrah.
Syrah has been planted across Washington much in the manner of Johnny Appleseed. Its capacity to adapt to a very wide variety of micro-climates is an admirable trait for growers, but also has contributed to its decline. Often, the result is like that of the chameleon, replicating its enviornment so precisely that it lacks an identity, causing the consumer confusion, frustration, and ultimately, indifference.
Couple this dilemma with the unbridled explosion of Washington wineries, of which far too many produce syrah, and the stage is set for a sea of ubiquitous redundancy. It’s said that we now have roughly 4,000 acres of syrah in production, and possibly 400 individual wines. Similarly, this has also happeded in California where also, very few distinctive syrahs are produced.
Gradually the consumer has been left wondering, “What is syrah? How should it taste? What aromas express the grape’s inherent characteristics?” How can I know what I’m actually going to get?” From the perspective of the media, critics, restaurant wine stewards, shop owners, etc., this lack of identity compounds the problem even greater as they attempt to define the wine due to its illusive progression.
When asked by a customer in a restaurant to describe a given bottle of syrah, the sommelier will offer so many descriptive terms that it practically sounds like an encyclopedia of the “wine wheel.” Confusion abounds with the myriad sea of styles and flavors, resulting in difficulty distinguishing the product of one winery from that of another, yet alone defining the grape and its noble attributes.
In the next blog, I’ll offer you my “Prayer For Tempranillo!”
For now, Hasta Luego!