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Tasting Note

Posted November 03, 2017 Loads of chalky grip keeps this wrapped up tight, but the core of steeped plum, fig and blackberry fruit is brimming with energy, while bay leaf, licorice root and charcoal notes chomp at the bit on the finish. Cellaring will rein this in.

And the answer is...


Varietal

Clearly very structured, this wine is packed with fruit and herb notes, among others. Let's try to follow these clues to our wine's identity.

The first grape on our list is Cabernet Sauvignon, which is grown in almost every winemaking country in the world. The most revered Cabernets generally come in Bordeaux blends or are from California's Napa Valley. These wines are full-bodied with plenty of tannins, acidity and dark fruit flavors. All of those qualities match our wine, but we're missing Cabernet's signature currant and cassis notes. Let's see if we can find a better match.

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec is one of the grapes permitted in Bordeaux blends. Recently, it has found great success in Argentina. Malbecs from Argentina are deep in color and big in structure with dark fruit flavors, usually with a solid dose of oak aging. But Malbecs don't typically show that chalky edge or herbaceous notes like bay leaf. It's another close fit, but not quite right.

Pinot Noir thrives in France's Burgundy and Champagne regions, as well as California, Oregon and New Zealand, among other places. Because of the thinness of the grape's skins, they're generally more delicate than our wine seems to be. Flavorwise, they exhibit notes of red berries and cherry fruit. The charcoal note is the most obvious hint that our wine is not a Pinot Noir.

Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in Italy, and it dominates in Tuscany, where it's the flagship grape of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. The best Sangioveses are known for being balanced with both intense acidity and firm tannins. Similar to Pinot Noir, these wines tend to lean more toward red fruit flavors, and our chalky note would be very out of character.

Finally, we have Syrah. A French grape from the Northern Rhône region, Syrah has also found a warm welcome in the New World, especially in California, Australia and South Africa. Because these New World regions are generally warmer climates, the wines are known for having jammy fruit and high alcohol. In cooler regions, Syrah can produce wine with flavors of dark fruit, herbs, licorice and even charcoal. The highest quality Syrahs can pack a punch when they are young and often need a few years of aging.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country

Syrah is a dark-skinned grape that generally grows in warmer climates all over the globe. Although all of our countries listed have warm regions, Syrah is generally not known to come from Italy or Argentina, so we can take those off the list. Australia, California and France all make high-quality Syrah wines, but the biggest difference is the New World vs. Old World styles. Our mystery Syrah has notes of herbs and charcoal, which typically point to an Old World style, and of the three, France is the only Old World country left.

This Syrah is from France.

Age

This wine still has a lot of "grip" to it thanks to the tannins, which usually become more incorporated with age. That suggests this Syrah is on the younger side and hasn't been aging in bottle for very long. Among recent vintages for Syrah in France, 2014 was inconsistent, with a rainy summer, but 2015 and 2016 were both stellar. 2016 looks to be a potential classic, but France's best Syrahs do spend some time aging in barrel, so it's unlikely that our wine is as young as 2016. The 2015 vintage might be one of France's best vintages ever for Syrah, with wines that are rich in fruit and structure, just like ours!

This wine is from the 2015 vintage, making it two years old.

Appellation

Since we now know that our Syrah is from France, we can eliminate California's Sonoma Coast, Italy's Chianti Classico, Australia's Barossa Valley and Argentina's Mendoza. That leaves us with Cornas, which is in the Northern Rhône, and Gevrey-Chambertin, which is in Burgundy. Both appellations are highly regarded for making some of the best red wines of France, however, Gevrey-Chambertin is strictly Pinot Noir. Northern Rhône, on the other hand, is famous for its Syrah-based reds and Cornas in particular requires that the wines be 100 percent Syrah.

This Syrah is from Cornas.

Wine

This wine is the Eric & Joël Durand Cornas Empreintes 2015. It scored 95 points in the Oct. 15 & 31 issue of Wine Spectator; 700 cases were made, and it retails for $48, so it's quite a value! For more on Rhône wines, see senior editor James Molesworth's tasting report, "Rhône Boom," in the Nov. 30 issue.

-Cassia Schifter, assistant tasting coordinator

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