"I'm shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here!" So says Inspector Renault to Rick in the classic film, Casablanca. Such an expression of shock could apply similarly to the case of Syrah being blended into what many of us consider the pristine varietal, Pinot Noir...or maybe not.
First of all, long before there was a hint of winery indiscretion in California, Burgundy producers would openly traverse to the Rhone Valley in France for a little vin de medicine Syrah for weak Pinot Noir vintages in the world's finest wine production region. Before 1920 when it became illegal to do so, why wouldn't you beef up your pinot if what you were presenting as your standard bearer looked like rose wine. After 1920 the "I'm shocked" claim may have been more appropriate considering the illegality, but what's a winemaker to do?
The scandal in California Pinot Noir, however, is really just a tempest in a teapot. California Pinot Noir is not Burgundy and adding Syrah to it surely won't make it so. If you wanted to look like Don Knotts, would you take steroids? Syrah, your steroid in this case, would steer your concoction in the exact opposite direction from the finesse of real Pinot Noir. But if you want to give the consumer what he/she wants in big, lush, mouth filling red wine, well, Syrah just might do the trick!
Last night at the weekly event, we tasted the 2009 Ceja Napa Valley Vino de Casa, which is labelled on the backside as Pinot Noir and Syrah. I was informed by vendor, Taylor Moore, that it was 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Syrah. The wine both fascinated me and gustatorily satisfied me... and I'm a Pinot Noir snob! In the nose I got Pinot, but Syrah ruled the roost basically everywhere else. Honestly, I have never experienced anything like this wine previously. The wine was thoroughly enjoyable and since Ceja is Mexican-American owned, I successfully imagined enjoying the wine with some red meat Mexican cuisine.
So here's the lowdown on the subject of Syrah-altered Pinot Noir: If you are buying under $15 Pinot Noir and it is relatively mouthfilling, you are probably enjoying some Syrah (or another blending grape) in the wine. If it's a more expensive wine and you think it is too substantial to be 100% Pinot, it may be a blend. In California a varietal wine only has to consist of 75% of the labelled variety. But here's the thing: California Pinot Noir is more substantial than Burgundy to begin with and if a producer can both satisfy the public and the critics by getting the right clone with the right terroir and maximize their efforts in the winery to extract as much flavor as possible from the grape skins, then the wine may, in fact, be 100% Pinot Noir.
I kind of like what blogger Craig Camp says about the subject: "If you're buying cheap Pinot Noir, be thankful the Syrah is in there." and "Make sure the Syrah you are using is just so-so quality so the wine still tastes like Pinot Noir." or even "Think about buying a varietal Syrah (at a lower price) to get an even better wine."
This coming Friday is the Fourth of July. We will be open and tasting so stop in after 5pm and join us. On Friday July 11th, Allen Rogers of Atlanta Beverage joins us for a tasting of Spanish reds, whites, and roses and on the 18th, Dmitry Paladino of Ultimate Wine Distributors presents California wines from his portfolio. So if what we're doing here at the blogspot is interesting to you, please join us here as a follower.