This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Jan. 28, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080128.php.
Australia Day has come and gone Down Under, but it's still Monday on this side of the International Date Line. In honor of the day, let's celebrate with our Aussie cousins with a taste of a rare, high-end Washington State Syrah made by John Duval, a past maker of Australia's storied Grange.
Penfolds Grange, developed by wine maker Max Shubert in the 1950s, was long labeled Grange Hermitage to highlight a presumed kinship with the great Syrah-based Hermitage of the Northern Rhone. It lost the French moniker in 1990 to avoid the loss of export rights to Europe.
Blended mostly from Shiraz plus a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in American oak and made in a high-alcohol, "blockbuster" style, it has become a virtual "cult" item over the years, routinely pulling down ratings in the upper 90s to 100 from critics who rate that way. It commands a retail price upward of $200 in the U.S. upon release; often much more for older vintages.
John Duval was the Grange wine maker for some 15 years during the 1980s and '90s. More recently, he has made his own Australian wines under the John Duval label, a line imported to the U.S. by Old Bridge Cellars that I've praised for elegance, depth and sense of place unusual in Australian wines.
Duval has also been quietly active in Washington State, I recently learned through a shipment from California Wine Club's Connoisseurs' Series. In a venture headed by wine executive Allen Shoup, former CEO of the Stimson Lane wine group (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and other Washington wineries), Duval and six other prominent international wine makers were invited to come to Washington State and turn their talents toward making excellent wines from Columbia Valley fruit.
The overall partnership does business as Long Shadows Vintners. Much like separate "imprints" under a publisher's umbrella, each of the wine makers has his own label. Duval's impressive Columbia Valley Syrah is called "Sequel," seemingly a not-too-hidden hint at his history at Grange.
The other Long Shadows producers and their wines are Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel in Germany's Nahe (Poet's Leap Riesling); Randy Dunn of Napa's Dunn Vineyards (Feather Cabernet Sauvignon); French "flying wine maker Michel Rolland (Pedestal Merlot); Agustin Huneeus of Napa's Quintessa and Philippe Melka of Napa's Melka Wines (Pirouette Red); Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari of Tenute A. & G. Folonari in Tuscany (Saggi), and Allen Shoup himself, with French winemaker Gilles Nicault (Chester-Kidder Red).
So, how does Sequel Syrah compare with Grange? It's certainly not as pricey: It retails in the $60 range; Connoisseurs' Club members may "restock" it in half-case or full-case lots for $55 a bottle, about one-fourth the toll for Grange. For what it's worth (and I'm sure you all know that I don't place much stock in the usual suspects' ratings points), Robert M. Parker Jr. rated it 93 points in August 1997 and Wine Spectator gave it a 92 in May.
But I'll say this: Duval's 2004 Sequel can fairly be called "Grange-like" in its intensity and imposing heft and style, and I find it much easier to enjoy in its youth than Grange, which I usually find too oaky and over-the-top to enjoy until it's had a decade or more of cellar time.
There's ample oak in Sequel to be sure, and I'm in no doubt that time in a competent cellar will serve it well. But in contrast with the high-price Australian spread, it makes delicious drinking now, in the big, "New World" style. With breathing time and red meat on the table, it will be hard to keep hands off; but prudent collectors will stock up and squirrel it away, enjoying the real possibility that by the time it reaches full maturity, it will have become a "cult."
Long Shadows Vintners 2004 Sequel Cellars Columbia Valley Syrah ($61 retail; $55 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
Very dark purple all the way to the edge. Black fruit, mocha and a faintly buttery note add a distinct but background note of high-toned oak in the nose. Full and ripe, juicy black plums and berries on the palate, well structured with balancing acidity and a core of silky tannins; 14.3% alcohol contributes body but not heat. Most of the wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels, a strategy that left its signature in distinct oakiness, but it's well woven into the wine and seems likely to resolve with cellar time, which will serve this excellent Syrah well. Calls out for red meat; it was a fine match with locally produced grass-fed Porterhouse steaks pan-seared medium-rare. Winery Website: http://www.longshadows.com (Jan. 26, 2008)
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The 2004 Sequel is available with membership in California Wine Club's Connoisseurs' Series. Call 1-800-777-4443 to join or learn more.
Looking for something a little more affordable in a Rhone-style red? This Côtes du Rhône Villages from Cairanne, one of the villages that's permitted to add its name to the wine label, offers outstanding value for $10.
Catherine le Goeuil 2005 Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne "Cuvée Léa Felsch" ($9.99)
Very dark purple, almost black, with a thin, clear garnet edge. Good and complex aromas, black raspberries and black pepper accented with a whiff of earth. Mouth-filling black fruit, fragrant pepper and mouth-watering acidity; plenty of smooth tannins well cloaked by fruit, and it carries its sturdy 14 percent alcohol well. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Jan. 23, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Grilled red meat would be a delight with it, but the wine showed its versatility by pairing surprisingly well with a more subtle match, a Spanish style tortilla with potatoes and onions.
VALUE: An exceptionally good value at this price; an early sure thing for this year's QPR list. (It's acceptable but not nearly such a value at the importer's $19 list price, but 'net-searching reveals that street prices in the U.S. and Europe are far below this.)
WHEN TO DRINK: Easy to enjoy now, but shows promise of greater complexity with cellar time.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
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