I hear a Symphony
Considering the enduring history and strong traditions that uphold the world of wine, where most of the "noble" grape varieties go back to medieval times and some to the ancient Greeks and Romans, it's a rare and interesting thing to find a grape of real quality and interest that dates only to the middle of the last century.
So say hello to today's featured grape, Symphony, a modern variety developed in California in 1948.
Symphony is one of dozens of new grapes bred by Dr. Harold Paul Olmo, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California (Davis), which is arguably the center of wine and grape technology in the U.S. Olmo, who served the university for more than 40 years and turned 93 last year, was recently presented the California State Fair's Grape and Gourmet Lifetime Achievement Award.
A white grape, Symphony is a cross between two French vinifera varieties: Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. In today's featured wine, from Ironstone Vineyards, the aromatic Muscat character shows in perfumed yet delicate fruit and flower aromas and a pleasant hint of bitterness; its white Grenache parentage seems evident in a degree of structure and snappy acidity that's not common in pure Muscat.
According to California's Baywood Cellars, another Symphony producer, the name was endowed by a wine scientist who tasted one of the first finished wines made from the new grape and declared that it showed "a Symphony of aromas and flavors."
Symphony is grown here and there in California, but not in great amounts, and only a few producers are currently making it as a varietal wine, although it may turn up as an anonymous component in some blends. Today's wine, which bears the producer's proprietary name "Obsession," is made from grapes grown in Lodi, in California's hot Central Valley. It's a crisp, slightly sweet and very refreshing white, just the thing for casual sipping as spring spreads its balmy days over the Northern Hemisphere.
Ironstone Vineyards 2001 "Obsession" California Symphony ($7.99)
Very pale straw color with a greenish tinge. Fresh and pleasant fruit aromas blend melon, grapefruit and a hint of peach with light grace notes of herbs and wildflowers, unusually complex for a modest white. Clean and refreshing flavor, with a slight prickliness on the tongue. Off-dry, but its fresh-fruit sweetness is well balanced by cleansing acidity and a distinct, pleasant bitter-almond quality in the finish. Best served fairly cold, as its careful balance of tart, bitter and sweet seems to fall apart somewhat as the wine warms toward room temperature in the glass. Excellent spring or summer aperitif, though, at a very attractive price. (April 1, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Good aperitif, and went very well with a Caesar-style salad topped with grilled chicken.
VALUE: Excellent value if you can find it at this under-$10 price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fresh and fruity, this wine is meant for drinking young; but for the record, the winery says the Symphony grape "shows an unusual resistance to oxidation" and claims that it will last, if not improve, for a decade or more at cellar temperature.
WEB LINK: Ironstone Vineyards' Website is
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Wednesday, April 2, 2003