Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Remy from The Wine Case put forth an interesting challenge – same wine from a Northern (cooler) and Southern (warmer) climate. Easier enough, or so I thought. I went out into the store to look around and see what sprung up at me, trying to visualize a world map in my head while I went from section-to-section, place-to-place. As always, when I play in the WBW game, I try to go out on the furthest limb possible because I’m weird like that. Yet what I eventually came up with was pitting a Northern Rhone Syrah – the Domaine Faury St. Joseph 2006, against a Sicilian version – the Planeta Syrah 2005. These beauties are a bit pricy (in my store the Faury runs $33.98 and the Planeta costs $33.96) yet they were evenly priced so I thought I’d at least remove that much from the equation.

So with a level playing field, let the game begin.

For starters, Syrah is a beautiful grape that seems to have gotten a lot of love from the critics in recent years, yet that love isn’t shared with the consumers. Used to be, for me Aussie Shiraz (the more southernly to its French counterpart), should much better at any price point, with the upper tier Syrahs from California, France and anywhere else just served to collect excessive amounts of dust. Hell, even the inexpensive domestic Syrahs do not do very well; it’s one mystery I don’t think I will ever solve.

That being said, let me introduce you to our first wine for the challenge: the Domaine PhillippeFaury St. Jospeh 2006. I have always loved a good St. Joseph. A relatively young appellation by most standards (established in 1956), this small area has always produced some stunning reds (100% Syrah of course). However, expansion in the region has caused those wines to be hidden amongst a bevy of mediocre ones. Kermit Lynch, one of the world’s top importers, always saves the day, and brings to the states the Faury, which is one Syrah you should definitely seek out.

The aromas leaping up from the glass suggest a bit of anise, some violets and lilacs, and even a touch of new leather. The color is intense purple, and its body voluptuous. There are just layer upon layer of plum, blackberry, blueberry, acai and black raspberry notes, sassafras, black pepper, roasted game, rhubarb, and even something of a brown sugar/butter reduction. Crazy. There is certainly a noticeable presence of earth, with the fruit flavors coming off as freshly-picked.

The second participant in this contest is the Planeta Syrah 2005. This winery has always impressed me, in that they have a very American approach to wine, yet still touting their local varietals above their more international counterparts. Known for their penchant for native grape, Nero d’Avola, the winemakers at Planeta were quick to show off Sicily’s versatility in growing grapes such as Chardonnay, Merlot and the aforementioned Syrah.
Planeta, one of the rising stars coming out of Sicily, shows more in common with California ilk: a warm-climate, jammy, expressive wine, the type I believe may have seriously impressed Robert Mondavi. Sicily has idyllic growing conditions: warmer weather, light rainfall, cooling tropical ocean breezes blowing in at night to prevent the grapes from ripening too quickly. Yet the more equatorial weather lends to its big, concentrated framework of blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavors, with the presence of root beer, tobacco, and even slow-cooked pork belly (why do I always have to be hungry when I write my notes?). The tannins here are arid and dusty, more granular than the Faury. Its presence on the palate is certainly more akin to an Aussie Shiraz.

I always try to tell my customers that in cooler climates, the grapes ripen slower, more naturally, so usually the flavor profile comes across as fresh, clean, and new, like eating fruit right off the vine/tree/etc. Yet hotter climates tend to ripen the grapes more quickly, usually lending to their almost-baked flavors in the wines they produce, sort of like a fruit pie, fresh from the oven.

In the end though, these two beauties, thanks to their winemakers, created two somewhat similar wines, with the Faury demonstrating the massive power of the Northern Rhone, and Sicily showing off its muscle and Italy’s adeptness at growing virtually anything.

I’ve got to thank Lenn of Wine Blogging Wednesday and Remy from The Wine Case for this very cool exploration. It certainly gets one to think outside of the box.

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