These are my closing thoughts to the wine writer. “A Prayer For Tempranillo” could really apply to any wine grape. It’s disconcerting that syrah has reached the pinnacle, the virtual “Poster Child” of Washington, then collapsed so rapidly. We saw this happen to merlot in the 90’s but today, it seems to have made a reasonable rebound. There’s hope that syrah will also, however I believe that all of us in different walks of life in the wine industry will need to learn a lesson from this “overabundance,” whether a grower, winemaker, wine critic, retailer or restaurateur.
The wine critic will often express various merits of a syrah from the perspective of its production, using terms such as “well-made, good structure, great balance, clean finish,” etc. Then there’s the plethora of descriptive terms applied, often in an attempt to give the consumer some insight as to its attributes and distinctive components. Unfortunately, the great majority of them are cookie-cutter offerings, sometimes with a bit of “sprinkles” to achieve delineation.
Is it unfair to suggest that, in part, there’s a responsibility among those who critique the wine to apply a criteria addressing the inherent signature that clearly identifies the wine as a “syrah?” If it’s appropriate that “big, jammy, powerful and concentrated” are equally valid for the grape, versus “spicy, meaty, peppery and smoky bacon,” then is it not likely that confusion will continue to abound? Have wine consumers been led to believe that “bigger is better,” the unfortunate mantra of too many pundits? Imagine if this was applied to pinot noir!
I’m not suggesting that new-world syrah must literally emulate those of Hermitage or the Cote-Rotie. There’s certainly the potential that something new and exciting may be discovered right here in our backyard. But will it likely be achieved with thousands of acres of the grape planted wherever convenient? No doubt, the bottom has dropped out of the market and the wine has become increasingly difficult to sell, so the question is: “What’s gone wrong?”
In my estimation, there are several culprits, but I believe that the abject lack of typicity is the primary cause. In other words, it lacks identity. Remember in Part 2 Asimov’s describing it as often “dreadfully generic red wine of little character.” I believe several underlying causes would include, “massive hopping on the bandwagon,” overplanting and overcropping, picking the fruit over-ripe, the science and methodology of winemaking overshadowing creativity, excessive price to value ratio, and a disturbing ignorance of the grape’s morphology.
Even after 20+ years of working with syrah, I’m rethinking my objectives as well as reducing syrah production in deference towards seeking microclimates which support its potential excellence and typicity. Hopefully, in time we’ll experience a resurgence of the grape, but I believe that it’s not in the near furture unless some serious effort is made to discern an identity, a responsibility for all of us in the industry who promote the grape.
So now, with a retrospective concern, I offer “A Prayer For Tempranillo.”
“Dear Father of all grapes, conceived by your intelligent design.
We ask that you spare Tempranillo from the way of the past,
That you bestow upon us, the guardians of this recently transplanted entity,
A sense of wonder and a craving for knowledge.
We ask that you lead us first to introspection and sound judgement,
So that we apply careful selectivity and thoughtful acts, void of
The desire to place remuneration before substance.
We ask that you guide us to the understanding that
Creativity is an act of passion, the driving force of all great deeds,
And that we never loose our sense of mystery and intrigue.
We pray that Tempranillo will never want for a place in the sun
Where its abundant qualities are misunderstood and misguided
And that most importantly, it sings of an expression all its own.