This event was conceived from a previous event held in Northern California this past May. That event was organized by Paul Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, as well as another smart guy, Alan Rath. For that event, they had a mixture of collectors, wine writes and winemakers. 12 wines, along with a coursed meal, I believe.
While we did not replicate last night the exact wines from their event, nor the tasters, we did work to copy the spirit of the event, using the blind format. I personally wrapped all the bottles in newsprint paper, scrambled them all several times and then I numbered them all in sequence from #1-#12. Thus, all we knew as a group was the 12 wines to be tasted but no one had any idea of the order. In sum, this was about as blind and transparent in evaluation as we could achieve.
We spread the wines into 3 flights (as opposed to 2 flights of 6 wines that was the May format). We also had a decanting plan that was followed: all of the wines we tasted last night were splash decanted 6-8 hours before the event began and then returned to bottle. And, we served a mixture of Persian food during the flights last night. And to further as much as the 'independent' sense that we wanted to create with the evaluation of the wines, we limited the cross-talk during the flights so that no one could bias/influence another taster.
Each taster had a TN sheet, listed in bottle order from #1 - #12, without wine names, although I did provide a separate sheet of paper that listed all 12 wines, their prices and origin (FR or CA). For each of the 3 flights, everyone had the opportunity to write notes, establish some kind of basic ranking and then finally a guess as to each--California or France. At the end of the 3rd flight, after all 12 wines had been tasted (well, 13 actually, as the Wind Gap Armagh was TCA'd), each taster was given time to revisit any of the bottles for a re-taste if they wanted to firm up their impressions. Then, we asked each person to rank all 12 wines, from 12th place to 1st place. Then, they turned in their sheets to me.
I was responsible for crunching the data, using an Excel file previously created by Alan Rath for the May event. It aggregated the rankings, the CA/FR guesses too, and the Excel file organized the results. I then took the results back to the table and we had the lovely and talented Todd French remove the bags, starting with the 12th place wine, all the way to the winning wine. As each bag was removed, we then had some time to discuss the result and see how it compared.
I will say this event was challenging for a few reasons. First, we're looking at 12 wines, over about 2 hours, across 3 flights. We're also comparing wines within a flight, to establish some kind of dominance or preference, then trying at the end (with the aid of re-tasting anything we liked), to rank all the wines against each other. Tough but rewarding. No bias, no scores, no critics---it was us doing what we liked/preferred.
I do want to thank several wineries for submitting wines into the event--Rhys, Ojai, Drew and Halcon. The remaining 2 California wines were from my cellar. The French wines were sourced from Paul, as well as Ryan Curry, who also attended.
Thank you all for making it down, for what was a terrific night of learning, friends and discussion.
- 2012 Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie La Viallière - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 4th place, group rank 5th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. A mix of blood and barnyard in aromatic. Cedary cherry, medium weight with good structure and what seemed like a light kiss of oak/char.
- 2013 Rhys Syrah Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 10th place, group rank 7th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Lavender and purple flower aromatics, along with lightly herbal. Purple fruit, good density, riper side of black cherry and concentrated core. My notes in the margin guessed Rhys or Copain.
- 2013 Drew Family Cellars Syrah Valenti Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 1st place, group rank 10th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This was the 3rd wine of the first flight and so arguably I was not palate fatigued or tired, FWIW. Distinct black pepper aromatic, intense with depth, pepper and olive. The last few words of my TN sheet say "excellent, gorgeous stuff". I guessed Calif on this one, and I would say this was the most distinctive of the 6 Calif bottles last night.
- 2013 Wind Gap Wines Syrah Armagh Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I was responsible for this wine and was the dude who opened it early in the day to decant. I didn't detect TCA and even at the table when we had it in the flight, it didn't jump out TCA for me. Yet, a handful of people, whether there was confirmation bias or TCA threshold they sensed, we decided to d/q the bottle and replace it with another wine (that ended up being the 2013 Chave Saint Joseph). NR (flawed)
- 2012 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave St. Joseph - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, St. Joseph
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 5th place, group rank 2nd place. As opposed to all the other wines in the event, this bottle was pulled in the moment and dumped to the decanter and served immediately. It was only known by Ryan, who had brought it as a backup for the evening--no one else knew the wine until the reveal. And, it replaced the Wind Gap Armagh, which we had D/Q'd because of some TCA. So, to the Chave, it seemed aromatically kind of burly to me, very present and lifted in nature. Bloody, dark cherry, and what my notes say "a little heat?". Spicy and savory in the finish.
- 2012 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 3rd place, group rank 4th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Light pepper in aromatic. Some richness here, kind of a sexy quality but it's not sweet nor overdone. Iron, dark tones. Spicy with good length, medium weight and some herbals in the finish. My ending comment in my notes say "really nice balance".
- 2013 Halcon Vineyards Syrah Alturas - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 11th place, group rank 6th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. Purpley, dark fruit and lavender nose, richer styled and some density here. Fruit purity with a richer core. Had no idea this was Paul's wine and I had it guessed as Calif, as well.
- 2012 Bernard Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 2nd place, group rank 1st place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. I dug this wine, as it had a balance and complexity that made it stand out. A cool, whole cluster florality, with light pepper and some blood. The aromatics reminded me of the '13 Drew Valenti which was in the previous flight. Tight palate, a rocky, ferrous/iron quality yet with terrific intensity and depth. This was terrific.
- 2013 Copain Syrah Hawks Butte Vineyard - USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 6th place, group rank 11th place. Decanted 8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. There were a few distinct markers in this wine I really dug (and it's well known with those close to me that I am a die-hard Copain dude, yet I had no idea the wine in the glass was Copain so please take my TN here as transparently written). Perfumey aromatic, with face powder lavender and purple flower. In some respects, similar to the '13 Rhys Horseshoe that was in the previous flight. Lavender, potpourri, medium weight, with hard cherry/raspberry candy and a great balance. Between the aromatic and the fruit purity with the raspberry quality, this is what drew me to the uniqueness comments. I wish it would have shown better to the others but I definitely liked it.
- 2012 Guillaume Gilles Cornas - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 8th place, group rank 12th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This seemed tight, rocky and intense with fruit but not in a way that I found very appealing. The aromatic seemed to loom large and ripe, the expression of the wine was rough and again overtly ripe. Dark, with what my notes say "lots of guts and some heat".
- 2012 Thierry Allemand Cornas Chaillot - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Cornas
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 7th place, group rank 8th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. For what I would have thought of a wine like this to show better, it got outclassed last night. Lightly floral, potpourri, tight with minerality. I liked the core here and what my finishing comments in my notes say "call this a wine with potential". I didn't put this potential comment in any of the other 12 wines last night so that may be an emerging positive for the wine. Conversely, there were smart palates around the table last night and so either the wine got a little lost, it didn't show well from this bottle or both. Who knows but I do think this wine will be better in time, as often Allemand is. I still recall the 1999 of this that I had last year and how it tasted like it was 5 years old at that time, not 20.
- 2012 Marie et Pierre Bénetière Côte-Rôtie Cordeloux - France, Rhône, Northern Rhône, Côte-Rôtie
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 9th place, group rank 2nd place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. The aromatics on this were bitchen, showing a cool climate signature. Pepper, smoky with some stem influence. Brooding, roasted red fruit, sweet leather/saddle, some savory in the finish and a bit jammy. The guess I made in my notes was the Rhys Horseshoe, even saying in the same note "clearly California". Yet, as it goes with wines done blind, when there isn't some score from a critic or personal bias about 'what should be' and that someone tells me to like or revere a wine, the humility and recalibration of one's palate and what we know is tamed by the blind experience. For that, I am always appreciative of this format.
- 2013 Ojai Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Barbara County - USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
Poured blind, as part of our '12 Rhone vs. '13 Calif syrah event. My rank 12th place, group rank 9th place. Decanted 6-8 hours before event, then returned to bottle. This was the final wine of the final flight, so take that FWIW. Purple fruit, dark raspberry too, and the ripeness here also stood forward.