Some wines make me shiver. It’s not about context—out with friends, or with someone I love. In fact, it’s rare that I’d pay enough attention to a wine in that context to react so viscerally. It’s more likely to happen during a tasting, when I’m focused completely on the wine.
What’s cool about tasting blind, without knowing the producer or the price, is that the juice itself can drive an emotional reaction. And what’s even wilder is when that same wine elicits the same reaction six months later, out in the world. That happened to me recently with a wine from the Mendocino coast, a syrah Jason Drew makes from the Valenti Vineyard, which grows on a ridge six miles from the Pacific. The wine has a scent and a texture that makes my chest tingle and my brain hum—an emotional reaction as much as a physical one.
Four vintages of this wine have had the same effect on me in our blind tastings, including the most recent, the 2016. And when I opened the wine for Sam Benrubi on his “Grape Nation” radio show, the buzz it brought had nothing to do with alcohol. California syrah, I thought, at $48 a bottle. That’s a lot less expensive than a great far-coast pinot noir, and a fraction of the price of collectible Napa Valley cabernet…
I’ve had similar reactions to other far-coast syrahs—those bottled by the team at Anthill Farms from both Peters Vineyard and Campbell Ranch, for example, or from the Peays at their Annapolis estate. And, recently, grenache and mourvedre from the high-altitude vineyards of the Sierra Foothills have captured my imagination as well.
So, even as the market continues to thrive on cabernet and pinot noir, our team decided to go with our guts and explore Rhône varieties in this issue. Luke Sykora considers whether two new Rhône events in New York reflect real changes in the market for syrah. Patrick J. Comiskey takes a fresh look at light, crunchy grenache as styles shift in California, and he and I present the best West Coast syrahs we’ve tasted during our panel tastings over the last year. I also call out some great Aussie shiraz and grenache from Barossa, Clare and Eden; and Tara Q. Thomas shines a light on Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage at the center of the northern Rhône, as well as some awesome new wines from South Africa’s Swartland. We hope you’ll find a wine or two to give you a warm shiver this winter.
photo by Mike Rush