This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Feb. 16, 2009 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20090216.php.
According to legend, a Crusader named Gaspard de Sterimberg returned from the Holy Land with grapevine cuttings in his saddlebags and a newfound pacifism borne of war's horror. He built a mountaintop chapel on a hill in a broad curve of the Rhone, vowed to study war no more, and declared his new home his Hermitage.
The grapes were Syrah of course, and the wines of Hermitage have become known as some of the world's greatest and most ageworthy.
A pretty legend, but sadly, it's almost certainly not true. I can testify to the little chapel – I've seen it on visits to the region. But tell the story to local wine makers and they'll simply smile indulgently. It's pretty well known, you see, that the local Syrah came in with Roman troops closer to two millennia ago and has been growing in the Rhone Valley ever since.
No legend-debunking can diminish the greatness of Syrah, by the way, which has spread around the world's wine-growing regions (known as Shiraz in Australia and here and there around the Southern Hemisphere, but the same grape nonetheless).
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Cline 2004 Sonoma Coast "Cool Climate" Syrah ($15.99)
Very dark reddish-purple with a garnet edge. Distinct blueberry aroma with just a whiff of spice. Black and blue fruit flavors and a hint of fragrant black pepper built over mouth-watering acidity. Bold fruit and high 14.5% alcohol make the "cool climate" moniker a bit dubious despite the Sonoma Coast's relatively cool environment; there's not much of a European style here. Still, it's a nicely balanced wine, intense but not such a blockbuster that it can't be paired with appropriate fare. (Feb. 2, 2009)
FOOD MATCH: The back label suggests pairing with robust goodies like barbecued shrimp, spicy chicken sausage or beef "tri-tip" and chanterelle mushrooms. It was fine with my pick, Italian sausage and onions.
VALUE: In an age when top California Syrahs are reaching trophy prices, the middle teens for a balanced Syrah of this quality makes it a no-brainer.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to enjoy now, but I don't think a few years in a good cellar would do it any harm.
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Les Jamelles 2006 Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc ($10.99)
Very dark purple with a clear garnet edge. Fruity aroma, plums and berries, just a whiff of black pepper in the background. Tart and tannic, plummy fruit laced up with zippy acidity and considerable tannic astringency. Rustic, good food wine. U.S. importer: Cellar Door Selections LLC, Columbia, Md. (Feb. 10, 2009)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with burgers crafted from local, natural lamb.
VALUE: Nicely balanced, varietally correct> Well above the "plonk" level at a price that pretty much marks the bottom end for quality in today's market. Look for it well under $10 in some markets.
WHEN TO DRINK: Despite the tannins, I'd have reservations about long-term aging, but it's quite enjoyable now.
Here's an article about Les Jamelles on the U.S. importer's site:
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