Saturday, January 20, 2018

Syrah and California Pinot Noir

I can't believe it's been over two months since I've posted!  While the holidays have certainly been a factor in this lapse, other interests must have tripped me up from fulfilling my obligations here.  Anyway here's what I'm thinking about now...

Some of the finest big red wines in the world come from the northern Rhone Valley of France and by definition those wines are Syrah-based.  North of the Rhone Valley lies Mecca, Burgundy, where the finest Pinot Noir in the world originates.  While Syrah works wonderfully as a blending grape, Pinot Noir, by virtue of its stature in the wine world, stands alone as a varietal.  Except...when the rules have been broken and the two are mixed together.

The rules, by the way, are French rules.  Laws, actually.  Syrah is not allowed to be blended into Burgundian Pinot Noir.  Not even in a bad vintage when the pinot could use a little beefing up with the stronger Syrah.

In California things are different.  If a California wine is labeled as Pinot Noir it only needs to be 75% pinot.  The other 25% can be anything, but because Syrah is such a wonderful blending grape it seems to have become the go-to for that purpose.

So what does Syrah add to Pinot Noir?  Syrah from cooler climes offers blackberry, mint, black pepper and tannin or, my favorite description, violets and tar.  Syrah from warmer climes gives a blend soft tannins, jammy fruit, licorice, anise, and leather.  Does that description sound familiar?

From their own website Meiomi Pinot Noir is described as having "blackberry, black current, dark chocolate, cola, espresso, and vanilla."  According to it also has approximately three times the sweetness of French pinot.  So what's going on here?

In 2011 Constellation Brands, the second largest wine company in the world bought Meiomi from Joe Wagner of Caymus fame, for $315 million dollars.  Whenever a label like Meiomi changes hands it usually is just the label that is being sold.  Constellation already owns enough Pinot Noir vineyards and they don't need the winery.  They also own Mega Purple, the most popular branded additive used in domestic wine making.  Mega Purple is a grape concentrate that is capable of covering a multitude of sins in mediocre wines.  So that in combination with likely 25% Syrah will yield the style of wine marketed as the domestic industry leader, Meiomi.

In the wine business we say, "You have to sell it."  In this case the makers of Meiomi have done a wonderful job of selling their product.  In our store at this time we have two Meiomi knockoffs according to, Diora and Mark West Black.  Diora is priced similarly to Meiomi while the Mark West is half that price.  So if Meiomi is your cup of tea stop in and try our Diora or Mark West.  Maybe they're even better than Meiomi!

This Thursday at 5pm David Rimmer joins us for a tasting of three Italian reds and a French Sancerre.  David has the best wine portfolio in this market so we strongly urge you to be here for the tasting.  Please join us!

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